This Week in Outdoor Policy – April 18th
What good is new gear if you don’t have anywhere outside to go use it? Tom Flynn tracks policy related to recreation and conservation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. With questions, news tips and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.
River Protection Bill Runs Dry in the Senate
Call it Washington politics as usual, but the promising North Fork Watershed Protection Act is now stalled out in the US Senate. This bill, championed by Montana Senator Walsh, would protect the North Fork of the Flathead River from extractive development, reciprocating Canada’s protections for the portion of the river on their turf. There is huge public support for river protections in Montana, and the bipartisan bill, supported by environmentalists and oil companies alike, even passed the hurdle of the House. But it is now “on hold” in the Senate, thanks to Senators from Texas, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. It seems as though the proponents’ strategy backfired—they tried to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but now that one or more Senators object, it requires 60 votes to overturn the hold. Naturally, some challenged those that blocked the bill to find the Flathead on a map. By way of explanation, one of the objectors mumbled something about limiting protections to only 20 years and transferring the land to the state of Montana first – totally missing the point on both fronts.
The tragedy here is politics getting in the way of good outdoor policy. Rather than considering the merits of protecting this place, those that control its destiny are looking at the mid-term elections. All this is complicated by the fact that the champion for the bill in the House, republican Representative Daines, is challenging Walsh, a democrat, for his Senate seat. All the talk of how noncontroversial and bipartisan this bill is will be nothing more than hot air out of Washington, unless some can look beyond the next election cycle and pass permanent protection for the North Fork.
Bundy’s Last Stand
Public land stories aren’t always on cable news, but combine Federal land management, cows, desert tortoises, state’s rights and armed militias with names like Cliven Bundy and Bunkerville, and it’s just too good to pass up. Long story short, a Nevada rancher stopped paying his grazing fees 20 years ago, which now total about $1 million. After multiple court orders, the BLM began to “impound” his trespassing cattle last week. Then, it all hit the fan. Spun up by media outlets and even elected officials, protestors and armed militias from across the West poured in. For their safety and the safety of others, the BLM backed down and released the cows – an understandable reaction when there are Idahoans aiming AR-15s at officers. Now, there is a moment of relative calm. Many want to make this a debate about state’s rights and Federal ownership of public lands, but there really isn’t any legal ground for them to stand on. The argument that the Bundy family pre-dates the BLM and therefore has rights rings especially hollow, not least to Native Americans. Besides, Mr. Bundy is not a movement (despite having 14 children and 52 grandchildren). He is simply one man not paying his way, unlike legions of law-abiding ranchers, outfitters and others that pay to use public lands. This certainly isn’t the last word from the Bundy Ranch.
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