But First the Good News (April Public Lands Update)

Over the past couple of weeks there hasn’t been much movement on public lands-focused legislation in DC. A couple of good bills had committee hearings and moved forward in the Senate but otherwise it seems that Congress has been pre-occupied with other matters. Public lands have been more in the spotlight at the state level – from Nevadans clamoring for their legislature to designate a Public Lands Day to a Montana lawmaker doing to her best to derail support for public lands. All the same, it’s good to keep track of what’s happening in DC, so here’s a brief update on bills we’re tracking.

Let’s start with the good news…

Although we tend to hear a lot of scary stuff coming out of DC these days, there are a growing number of really good bills that backcountry skiers can definitely get behind. Here are some we’re stoked on:

  • H.R. 502 permanently re-authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), America’s most popular and successful conservation program. This bill continues to gain co-sponsors, so your calls and emails are working!
  • H.J.Res. 195 is a resolution recognizing the importance of environmental stewardship and the urgency of the fight against climate change. This resolution was introduced by a handful of House Republicans and it’s really encouraging to see some bi-partisan support for fighting climate change.
  • S.483 / H.R. 1285, the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, would designate more than 126,500 acres of the Olympic National Forest as Wilderness and designate 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild & Scenic.
  • S.507, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act of 2017, would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas in Montana, designate new recreation areas for snowmobiling and mountain biking, and ensures the continuation of sustainable timber harvests outside of the protected areas.
  • S.713/H.R. 1791, the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Act, would designate 1.5 million acres of public and private land from Seattle to Central Washington as a National Heritage Area. This designation would improve management of the area and promote economic growth and tourism in the region. It passed through committee in late March and is awaiting a full vote in the Senate.
  • S.566, the Methow Headwaters Protection Act, would protect approximately 340,000 acres of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, including tons of great backcountry ski terrain, from new industrial-scale mine development. It passed through committee in late March and is awaiting a full vote in the Senate.

And the bad bills?

Like facets buried deep in the snowpack, these bills are lurking in Congress and with the right combination of factors they could prove to be disastrous. So far none of these have had a hearing, much less made it through committee or faced a vote, but we’re keeping an eye on them. By letting your representatives in Congress know that you don’t support these bills you can help to keep them from moving forward.

  • H.R.637 and  H.R.958 both seek to undermine efforts to address climate change, by repealing federal climate change regulations and prohibiting the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses.  H.R.861 would eliminate the EPA entirely. Of course, with this guy in charge of the EPA Congress may be the least of our worries.
  • H.J.Res.46 would take away the Park Service’s authority to regulate oil and gas drilling within National Parks.
  • H.R.622 eliminates Forest Service and BLM law enforcement capabilities and puts local sheriff departments in charge of patrolling federal lands and enforcing land management regulations instead, even though local agencies generally lack the skills or resources to deal with issues that arise on public lands. This would leave millions of acres of public land vulnerable to abuse and severely compromise the safety of the recreating public.
  • S.33, S.132 and H.R. 1489 would curtail the historic power of the Antiquities Act by requiring approval from Congress and the relevant state legislature in order for the President to designate a new National Monument. Presidents of both parties dating back to Teddy Roosevelt have used the Antiquities Act to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features across the country. When Congress is seized by partisan gridlock it is sometimes the only tool available to protect these places.
  • H.R. 1349 would amend the Wilderness Act to allow wheeled and mechanized uses within designated Wilderness areas. With approximately 97% of public lands currently available for wheeled and mechanized uses we believe we should all working together to improve recreational access for human-powered users on non-Wilderness lands rather than taking aim at our nation’s strongest conservation law, damaging valuable partnerships, and undermining protections currently in place for what would be a small potential recreational gain.
  • H.R. 232 would authorize state legislatures to purchase up to 2 million acres of land from the Forest Service for the purpose of timber production. Not only does this take public land out of public ownership, it would shift the management of these lands from multiple use (including recreation) to industrial forestry.

How to speak up

A couple of weeks ago we attended a town hall hosted by Montana Senator Jon Tester and somebody asked the Senator for his advice on how best to be heard in DC. His response? Phone calls and emails are the way to go. Congressional staffers listen to your voicemails and they read your emails. Handwritten letters, while nice, take forever to make their way to DC and through security screenings, so they aren’t the best way to communicate with elected officials. Our friends at the Outdoor Alliance posted a really informative blog about how to call your elected officials. Or, you can use the easy-to-customize online tool we’ve developed for you to email your Senators and Representative.

It’s more important than ever for backcountry skiers and others who love our public lands to know about the threats these lands face, and to show support for protecting places where we all play. Help us spread the word by forwarding this email to your backcountry partners and encouraging them to join Winter Wildlands Alliance today.

Thanks for all you do,

Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager