A couple of nights ago I met up with some friends for a beer and eventually our conversation turned from skiing to protecting the public lands where we ski. Perhaps feeling inspired by memories of the past weekend, my friend Chris came up with the perfect metaphor. “It’s like you’re getting towed behind a snowmobile going 70 miles per hour. It’s not fun. You’re going to hit some whoop-dees with your knees locked.  You might crash and get dragged for a while. But you can’t give up and let go because if you do you’re lost.” This pretty much sums up public lands advocacy in 2017.  It’s hard, we’ll get beat down from time to time, and we’ve got to be persistent if we want to succeed.

On Thursday the Trump Administration released its budget blueprint and it’s a nightmare for public lands, the climate and our environment. This proposed budget cuts spending across most federal programs, including federal land conservation and environmental protection. Under this proposed budget, Forest Service conservation efforts are a low priority and funding for the Department of Agriculture overall would be cut by 21%. The budget also reduces Department of Interior funding by 12%, with land acquisition being particularly hard hit. Under the President’s budget, funds for federal land acquisition would be cut by at least 75%.

This disproportionate cut is despite the fact that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the main vehicle for federal land acquisition, enjoys strong bi-partisan support across the country. The President’s budget disregards other aspects of our environment too – the Environmental Protection Agency faces among the biggest cuts of any agency – 31% – and funding for climate change research and mitigation efforts are slashed across all agencies. Thankfully, Presidential budgets are more political statement than reality. At the end of the day, it’s Congress who sets the federal budget and this fight is far from over.  We need you to contact your representatives in Congress and tell them the President’s budget is unacceptable. Let them know that you support increased funding for public land agencies, including for land conservation, and that we must do more to protect our environment.

And, speaking of Congress, Winter Wildlands Alliance is continuing to track bills in the House and Senate. There hasn’t been much movement lately, but that could change at any time.  Here’s a quick overview of the ones that have caught our attention:

Public Lands

  • H.R. 622 proposes to eliminate the Forest Service and BLM’s law enforcement ability and provide grants to local law enforcement agencies to patrol on federal lands instead. This takes away the Forest Service and BLM’s ability to steward our public lands and protect the safety of the recreating public and puts these responsibilities in the hands of local agencies who may not have the resources or skills to enforce federal regulations or choose to do so.
  • S.33 and  S.132 would curtail the Antiquities Act by requiring congressional approval as well as approval from the relevant state legislature in order for the President to designate a new National Monument. H.R. 243/S. 22 is similar but the would only apply to the state of Nevada.
  • H.R. 1349 would undermine the Wilderness Act by allowing wheeled and mechanized uses within designated Wilderness areas.
  • 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 to industrial forestry.

Climate Change and the Environment

  • H.J.Res.46 would roll back the National Park Service’s authority to regulate private oil and gas drilling within National Parks.
  • 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.

Those bills are scary…are there any positive bills I could be rooting for?
There are! There are a couple of really good public lands bills in Congress that we’d love to see pass this session. Please ask your representatives to support these bills:

  • H.R. 502 would permanently re-authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • 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 would designate 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild & Scenic. To learn more about the Wild Olympics check out this blog by the Mountaineers.
  • 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.  For more information visit www.methowheadwaters.org.
  • 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. For more information visit www.blackfootclearwater.org.

What can I do? 
Our public lands need your voice. Please, call (202-224-3121) or write your representatives in DC on a regular basis to tell them what you think about the bills they’re considering. We’re here to help, by letting you know what Congress is up to and providing an easy way for you to email your Senators and Representative. Remember, advocacy work is a marathon, not a sprint. We don’t want you to burn out in the first few months, so pace yourself because there’s a long road ahead.

Thanks for all you do,

Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager