Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. For questions, comments and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.
Complete Climbing Ban Proposed at Castle Rocks, ID
This week, Idaho climbers got some bad news. The Bureau of Land Management is proposing a complete, permanent ban on climbing at Castle Rocks, a popular crag near the City of Rocks that has had its access issues in the past. Thing is, Castle Rocks is also sacred ground for two tribes, and the BLM says that any climbing would destroy the archeological and cultural resources (though hiking and hunting, apparently, don’t). The Access Fund and local climbers had been working the BLM on a climbing management plan that would both allow climbing and protect the cultural resources. But now, they want a complete ban. This is exactly the kneejerk outdoor policy that we all fear. It is no coincidence that sacred ground and great places to play outside often overlap. Places like these inspire deep, even spiritual relationships. There has to be a way for climbing and cultural resources to coexist. The final decision will depend on what the BLM hears from climbers, so head over to the Access Fund to learn how you can help.
Forest Service Wants Its Money Back
Every year, the Forest Service sends millions of dollars to counties across the West. These payments help with roads and schools in places that used to rely on timber sales. Now, the Forest Service wants its money back – $17.9 million of it. Their reason? Sequestration, of course. It comes down to a question of timing. The payments were made in 2013, but were for the previous year. The Agency thinks sequestration applies, so they want cash back. States say bull sh*t, you already paid us. Now, there’s no doubt these payments matter. When you drill down to the individual counties that get money, a couple hundred thousand can make a huge difference – paving a decrepit road or paying county employees. Also, these payments serve to protect the outdoors, in way. Without them, the pressure to log, mine or otherwise develop public lands would be even greater. There are already too many that argue that logging should increase – or federal lands be transferred to state control – for the sake of schools and roads in rural counties. Don’t expect a resolution to this tricky issue anytime real soon.
Fees Going to Protect…Fees?
In light of last week’s news about fees to visit national forests, one of this week’s headlines is a real head scratcher. Many feel that paying just to visit Forest Service land is double taxation. Regulations and courts have long upheld that fees may only be charged if there are additional amenities, like bathrooms. Yet this week, the Forest Service in Oregon, by their own admission, revealed that fees are going to…wait for it…fee collection. Here is the kicker from their statement: fees should be used for improvements, “instead of spending the fees to address theft and vandalism of fee tubes.” The Siuslaw National Forest is responding by eliminating many of the steel tubes you are supposed to drop your money in (rather than ramming with your pickup) and making people pay online or at ranger stations. Ways to tell your fee is ineffective? When you have to spend the fee money to get the fee money. They probably have a hole they can fill by digging another hole too.