Tom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Each Friday (when available) he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. For questions, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.
Sally Jewell Nominated for Secretary of Interior
Much has been made of the fact that Sally doesn’t wear cowboy hats. Regardless of her choice of headwear, Sally Jewell’s nomination for Secretary of Interior is big, good news for all those that play outside. Mrs. Jewell’s experience ranges from oil fields to finance to the outdoor industry – a great mix for the Department of Interior, which manages everything from energy development to recreation on most of our public lands. Personally, Mrs. Jewell is a hiker, skier, climber, cyclist and conservationist. She knows how to lead, whether on the sharp end of a climbing rope or at the helm of a major corporation like REI. Public lands are called upon to be many things to many different people. Sally’s range of experience, personal commitment to outdoor recreation and leadership should bring a measure of balance to Interior. Now she faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. Barring any hold ups, the Senate will probably confirm her next week. There are a couple of ways to show your support. Want to watch her confirmation hearing (not your average CSPAN)? Check back here 3/7 at 10am ET.
Effort to Criminalize Vermont Backcountry Skiing Dropped
Last week, news broke that the Vermont state legislature was considering a bill to make it illegal to ski out of bounds in Vermont. Skiers ducking ropes and needing rescue would be charged and fined $500. Granted, it is a significant burden on rescuers to pull lost skiers out of the woods – all told, nearly 50 needed rescue near Killington, VT this year alone. But there are a whole host of problems with this proposal. A fine that only kicks in if you need help? That is like a speeding law that only penalizes drivers if they crash. In reality, most would assume they won’t need rescuing (as they do currently), and ski out of bounds with the same abandon as before. Also, if you are a dirtbag pow-seeking skier facing criminal charges and a $500 fine, would you call for help if you were lost? Heck no, you would dig in and spend the night, probably increasing your chances of injury or death. Not to mention the fact that the state of Vermont, like Maine and especially New Hampshire, can already fine you for rescue fees if you are deemed “reckless.” Thankfully, facing opposition from backcountry skiers, police and the ski area association, this boneheaded bill was dropped this week.
No Takebacks – The Second Coming of the Sagebrush Rebellion
Any six year old knows that when you give something away, you can’t ask for it back. Some Western states are testing this time honored rule, and not for the first time. With periodic fare-ups in the 40’s, 70’s and 90’s, a handful of Western states have sought to take back control of the millions of acres of Federal public land within their borders. Every version of this so-called Sagebrush Rebellion has failed, mostly because such demands are unconstitutional and states simply cannot afford the costs of managing the land. Undeterred, they are at it again. Last year, Utah actually passed a law demanding Federal lands be transfered to the state. This week, the Utah legislature forced the issue again. Other states are following suit, with Wyoming and New Mexico studying the legal costs of making such a demand, as well as the costs of firefighting, visitor services and everything else that goes into land management. Some states, however, are not joining the rebellion and Idaho postponed a take back bill, at least for another year. Hopefully more states will remember that there are no takebacks, and that these proposals are just as unconstitutional, financially unfeasible and shortsighted as they always have been.
Besides All Else, Sequester Bad for Public Lands
One last quick note, the mandatory spending cuts known as the Sequester will probably go into effect later today. It is as though we dug ourselves a tiger trap so menacing no one would go near it – and then promptly walked right in. This will be bad. How bad and to what is debatable and better debated elsewhere. Suffice to say that our public lands will suffer. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management may have trouble hiring seasonal employees and keeping developed recreation areas open. The National Park Service may face 5% cuts, forcing even the Jenny Lake visitor center in Grand Teton to close.