This Week in Outdoor Policy – May 23rd

Photo credit: Lisa Mandelkern

Photo credit: Lisa Mandelkern

What good is new gear if you don’t have anywhere outdoors to go and 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] org.

States Still Want Ownership of Federal Public Lands
Like a scab that just won’t heal if you pick at it, the Sagebrush Rebellion continues to ooze. This so called rebellion, of course, is the term given to the efforts of a number of Western politicians (and their oil and gas industry backers) to grab ownership of Federal public lands within their state borders. Despite the previous failures of these efforts, assurances that they are unconstitutional, and convincing evidence that states cannot afford the outcome, proponents soldier on—as one outlet put it, like a dog chasing a car. What would they do if they caught it?

Lately, Montana has been the center of some attention, where a state committee is considering the idea. The meeting included presentations from legislators from neighboring states, and resulted in a flurry of opeds in opposition, primarily from hunters and anglers. Montanans have already heard from the pied piper of the rebellion, Utah State Representative Ken Ivory, who travels the West spreading the gospel of state ownership. Some have started to wonder why Ivory isn’t registered as a lobbyist. He (and his wife) is employed by the non-profit he founded to focus on this issue alone. Though Utah’s laws may be loose enough that he is technically not a lobbyist there, the conflict of interest sure seems ethically murky—and the other states he visits have tighter laws on lobbying. In part due to Ivory the legislator-lobbyist, Utah continues to lead the way, having spent $500,000 and counting, all public funds, studying state ownership.

Obama Creates Big New National Monument
On Wednesday, President Obama designated the newest and largest National Monument of his presidency. With his signature, he created the 500,000 acre Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument, near the southern town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. But what is a National Monument, anyways? Under the Antiquities Act of 1906 the president has the power to permanently protect public land without an act of Congress. Presidents of both parties have used the Act over the years to make National Monuments of some of our most cherished places. This latest Monument is great news for the outdoors—but naturally, it drew immediate criticism. Opponents like to say this is a federal land grab that doesn’t take local perspectives into account. Oh, and in this case, that it also threatens our very lives by affecting security on our border with Mexico. On the first point, this land is already federally owned, it’s just getting more protected. On the second, no modern Monument proceeds without years of public input. Then once designated, the specific ways the Monument will be managed are determined by a planning process, with legal requirements for local public input. And on the final point, the US Customs and Border Patrol agency itself said the Monument would not affect security, showing those claims for the blatant fear mongering they are.

During the signing ceremony, Obama said four promising words: “And I’m not finished.” This gives hope to all the other communities in the West vying for his attention to their potential National Monuments. With a large, not uncontroversial designation in the rear view mirror, here’s hoping the President’s next stop is the Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho.

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Tom Flynn

Tom lives in Boise, Idaho and works for Outdoor Alliance. He is passionate about both protecting and enjoying the outdoors - doing anything human powered, but most often on a skin track or racing on a singlespeed.

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