This Week in Outdoor Policy – June 20th

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.

Balanced Outdoor Recreation Under Siege
The Forest Service’s “Travel Management Planning” process, as ambiguous and redundant as it may sound, is actually really important. If you appreciate places to ride your bike without ATVs, you can thank travel management. And if you want more quiet, untracked backcountry skiing, your hopes lay with this process. Now, it is threatened on two fronts.

Beginning with a rule passed under George W. Bush in 2005, the Forest Service said roads and trails are closed to motorized use unless designated open. That was a big change from the previous, open-by-default management. It began to bring some balance to motorized and non-motorized recreation, by starting a nationwide process to talk with everyone that uses our national forests, including local government, and decide what use should go where. Crucially, snowmachines were exempt from that 2005 rule (for interesting reasons) and that use remained under old management – open unless designated closed. That is, until April 2013, when a federal judge ruled that snowmachines should be managed just like any other motorized use. It was a rare victory, sending the Forest Service off to write (yet) another rule for how to implement it.

This week, the Forest Service released a draft of the new rule – and it’s not good news. Basically, it says nothing has to change. Forests can choose to manage winter use…or not. And past decisions, no matter how poorly informed…can stay. As disheartening as this may be, it is not the only threat travel management faces. HB 4272, introduced by Rep. Walden of Oregon, stands to throw out the whole travel management process anyways. The so-called “Forest Access in Rural Communities Act” would erase the 2005 rule—along with the hope of winter management, not to mention the thousands of hours and millions of dollars local communities and Agencies have spent working on all this. Fortunately, it’s not over yet. The bill hasn’t made it out of committee, and the Forest Service is taking input on their disappointing rule for the next 45 days.

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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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