Outdoor Alliance unites the voices of paddlers, mountain bikers, hikers, climbers, and backcountry skiers to conserve America's public lands and protect the human-powered outdoor experience. On their blog they share their favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.
If you like to get outside and explore the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana, you have the chance to weigh in on how this land will be managed for the next few decades. The Forest Service recently released a draft plan that includes several different alternatives for how it could manage the forest, and it wants to hear from you. Until June 6, the Forest Service is accepting comments on this draft plan for the Custer Gallatin.
The draft plan and alternatives are 900 pages (and that’s not counting the appendices!), so if you don’t have time to wade through it on your own, we are here to make sure you don’t have to. Outdoor Alliance and our partners on the ground in Montana, including Montana Backcountry Alliance, Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association, and Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition have provided helpful analysis of the draft plan that you can use when sending a message to the Forest Service. We have even submitted our own vision and proposal for how to manage key areas (check it out here).
Ready to submit a comment now? We’ve made it as easy as possible with this tool, including guiding questions and a draft comment you can use:
The Custer Gallatin is home to some of the most amazing recreation in the country. It includes world-class ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon; backcountry skiing, mountaineering, backpacking in the Absaroka-Beartooth and Lee Metcalf Wilderness areas, and paddling that draw people from across the country; excellent rock climbing and great backcountry mountain biking in the Lionhead that has been cherished and maintained by locals for years. These activities all contribute $223 million to the local economy.
Beyond being an incredible destination for outdoor recreation, the Custer Gallatin is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is one of the largest nearly intact ecosystems in the country. It’s a rare and wild place where it’s easy to find big adventures close to home. The Custer Gallatin’s abundance of wildlife, wilderness, and roadless landscapes makes the forest unique, a critical piece of the larger ecosystem, and valuable for the human-powered outdoor recreation community as well as the many sportsmen and women in the area.
Outdoor Alliance’s goal is to protect and improve people’s experiences outside, along with protecting the wildness of the landscape and the wildlife that depend upon it, without which the forest wouldn’t be what it is today.
What are the challenges that forest planning is trying to solve?
There are a few challenges facing the Custer Gallatin National Forest that the Forest Service is trying to address in its draft plan.
First, the communities around the Custer Gallatin are quickly growing. Bozeman is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, so there are more visitors to the forest every year. As more and more people get outside, it does put pressure on the forest and the Forest Service needs a management plan that can adapt and help sustain increased use while still protecting the experiences people love, including the feeling of getting away from it all.
Climate change poses a challenge for forests across the country, including the Custer Gallatin where things are generally warmer and drier than they once were. Wildfires, insect and disease outbreaks, fish kills in the Yellowstone River, and melting glaciers are among the issues the Custer Gallatin must grapple with as the climate warms. The new plan must consider how to protect the Custer Gallatin in the face of a changing climate.
What does Outdoor Alliance think the Forest Service should do in the final plan?
Click to view the full OA Montana Vision.
Right now, the Forest Service is offering several different alternative management plans for the forest. None of them is perfect, but there are pieces from three of the alternatives that combined will make a very good plan. Alternative C is a good starting place, but we have some critical recommendations for improving it. Our Outdoor Alliance Montana network has crafted and shared its own vision for the Custer Gallatin, which you can read in full here and is highlighted below.
Outdoor Alliance members are also part of the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP) which has created a broader proposal to protect the Gallatin and Madison Ranges, places we all love for their wildlife, clean water and undeveloped lands - while also providing recommendations for maintaining access for all the different ways we recreate within them. The Gallatin Forest Partnership Agreement strives to balance conservation, recreation, and wildlife values and is supported by a wide range of people who live, work, and recreate in and around the Gallatin and Madison Ranges. This covers a good chunk of the Custer Gallatin National Forest and Alternative C includes many parts of the GFP Agreement. We would like to see the full GFP Agreement included in the final plan.
As mentioned, Outdoor Alliance Montana has also created a vision that goes beyond the GFP recommendations to include protections for sustainable recreation across the forest, including mountain biking. Beyond the Gallatin and Madison Ranges, we are endorsing the Recommended Wilderness designations in Alternative C, with the exception of the Lionhead area and the addition of the Chico, Emigrant, and Dome Mountain roadless areas. We recommend support designating the Lionhead area as a non-motorized Backcountry Area, and support the other Backcountry Areas designated in Alternative C in order to ensure mountain biking can continue in these places while still protecting their ecological values. We would also like to see the Forest Service expand the eligible Wild and Scenic river segments to include gems like Sweetgrass Creek. Finally, we would like the final plan to include all of the recreation emphasis areas in Alternative E.
To get down to specifics, here’s what we think should be included in the final plan, much of which is adapted from the Outdoor Alliance Montana vision for the Custer Gallatin:
Gallatin Forest Partnership Agreement – We support the Gallatin Forest Partnership Agreement and would like to see it adopted into the final plan.
Wilderness – Designated Wilderness is an important recreational resource on the Custer Gallatin. Hikers, trail runners, backpackers, backcountry skiers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, paddlers, climbers, and more all recreate within and highly value the unconfined, primitive, recreation experience that Wilderness provides. For this reason, we want to see additional areas recommended for Wilderness in the final plan, and importantly, our team has vetted these areas to avoid affecting existing mountain bike trails. Our priorities include the Gallatin Crest and the rugged roadless lands to the west of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness – Chico Peak, Emigrant Peak, and Dome Mountain.
Backcountry Areas – There are some undeveloped areas of the Custer Gallatin that are valued for mountain biking and other recreation that requires more flexible management than recommended Wilderness. There are three areas in particular where we support a non-motorized Backcountry Area designation to preserve the area as it is now, including access for mountain biking: Lionhead, Porcupine-Buffalo Horn, and West Pine.
Wild and Scenic Rivers – In addition to the 30 streams found to be Wild and Scenic eligible in the Proposed Action, which we strongly support, we advocate that the forest add the following streams to its eligibility inventory. They are all free-flowing, possess at least one outstanding remarkable value, and are conservation priorities for the paddling community:
Buffalo Creek, Absaroka Mountains
Hellroaring Creek, Absaroka Mountains
Porcupine Creek, Gallatin Range
South Fork Madison River, Hebgen Basin
Taylor Creek, Ashland Geographic Area
Taylor Fork River, Madison Mountains
Sweetgrass Creek, Crazy Mountains
Recreation Emphasis Areas – Designating Recreation Emphasis Areas is a way for the forest plan to address specific areas where many different recreational uses are concentrated. These areas receive more visitors than other areas of the forest and require special management direction to ensure that recreation within these areas is sustainable – both in terms of the public enjoying specific recreation opportunities, and also so that recreation uses do not degrade the natural environment. We support all of the Recreation Emphasis Areas in Alternative E with two modifications: we would like to see the Bridger Winter Recreation Emphasis Area expanded to include the Northern Bridgers, which are very popular with backcountry snowsports enthusiasts; and we support the GFP’s proposal for a Hyalite Recreation Emphasis Area as included in Alternative C.
Wildlife – To address recreation impacts to wildlife, the Forest Service should monitor wildlife populations across the forest and adapt recreation management as necessary to protect wildlife. Any necessary management prescriptions or use limitations regarding wildlife protection should be equitably applied across user groups and carefully tailored to the needs driving the management action.
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Maps and More Information Maps of the Custer Gallatin Proposed Plans
Maps of the Outdoor Alliance Montana Vision
Just a few weeks ago, the Outdoor Alliance coalition launched a joint climate campaign, asking the outdoor community to speak up for climate action. Although climate is problem on a different scale than the policy priorities we typically focus on, we have a responsibility to join the movement to address the biggest threat to the outdoors. Yesterday, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the effects of climate change on outdoor recreation, a great step toward. You can view the full hearing here.
Climate change is an urgent threat, and there are many voices calling for climate action with a vast array of potential solutions. Among these voices, outdoor enthusiasts are important because our experiences outdoors give us particular insight into how the natural world is changing and because climate change also threatens the sector of the economy that depends on outdoor recreation ($887 billion a year). Outdoor adventurers have also been effective at moving conservation legislation forward in recent years, so we can capitalize on our power to help address climate issues.
Before the hearing, we put out a call for stories about how outdoor enthusiasts like you have witnessed climate change, and we got many incredible stories that we were able to share with the committee. You can view our full testimony at right (or just click here), though this does not include the full selection of climate stories we shared with the committee.
Chair of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Deb Haaland (D-NM), opened the hearing by reflecting: “Across the country, our public lands support a robust outdoor recreation industry. The industry is becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change, however. Climate change is impacting our recreational landscapes on National Parks, shifting the range of iconic trees in Joshua Tree National Park. Landscapes that have existed in time immemorial are disappearing.”
The witnesses, from the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, a former Olympian and indigenous activist, a National Park guide and POW activist, a representative of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Vista Outdoors, spoke movingly of how they had seen climate change affecting the landscapes their lives, businesses, cultures, and members rely on.
Outdoor enthusiasts continue to have an important role to play in demanding that lawmakers take action on climate. While individual action matters, climate change is a global-scale problem that needs policy solutions on a national and global scale. It’s hard to know exactly what the likely next steps are here, but we’re encouraged that climate is getting more attention in Congress, and a full airing of the problems we face feels like a necessary, if somewhat frustrating, step forward. If you haven’t already, please sign the petition for climate solutions, and we’ll keep you in the loop on climate activism opportunities:
Over the last two years, even as Congress has passed historic public lands protections and the government is finally measuring the economic impact of outdoor recreation, the administration has been aggressively leasing off public lands to developers without input from taxpayers.
This administration has opened up millions of acres of public land for oil and gas leasing, in some cases giving away the rights to these lands for less than $2 an acre. Last year, the BLM offered three times as much land for lease compared to what was offered under the last administration (12.8 million acres in 2018 compared to 4.3 million acres from 2013-2016).
Click to enlarge.
And while these lands belong to all Americans, the American people have been virtually cut out of the process. Developers nominate parcels of land, often without knowing whether they actually have oil and gas potential, and have been buying up leases for less than a cup of coffee per acre. Officials have shortened the public comment period on these leases from 30 days to 10 days, in some cases only accepting mailed public comments, so it’s more difficult for us to track and respond to what’s happening. Once land is leased, developers can lock it up for development at any time.
This is a problem for many reasons, including the impact of unnecessary development on our climate. For people who love the outdoors, it is also a huge threat to the places we love. These giveaways threaten places people get outside, and even inactive leases can hang like an axe over the head of millions of additional acres. With leases that can last decades, this is a problem that will far outlast the current administration.
Many developers lease these lands speculatively and will sit on leases for years as they wait for commodities prices to change or a new drilling technique to make it cheaper to develop. Even when leased land isn’t being actively developed, it can pose problems. Let’s say a community wants to build a mountain bike trail in Nevada to support local quality of life and support a sustainable economy, but the land is leased by a foreign oil company. Is it worth investing in the trail building, knowing that at any minute, the community could be shut out for development?
Click to enlarge.
For example, we recently identified a trail system near Glenwood, Utah that could be impacted by future oil and gas lease sales in June. Last spring, volunteers built a new race course (Spring 2018) for the Southern Region of the Utah High School Cycling League, and holds races that are sponsored by National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). But this summer, the BLM will lease off a parcel of land that comprises nearly the entire course. And they offered just a 10-day comment period. Click on the map from the Outdoor Alliance GIS Lab at right to learn more.
Although the administration has been moving aggressively, these giveaways have garnered little public attention. Partly this is because the American people get virtually no notice, and very little chance to comment, when land is being auctioned off. But leases last for decades, so leasing millions of acres now will have effects for generations. Leased land is often excluded from protection for their conservation, wildlife, or recreation values, which can complicate efforts down the road to protect key places.
So what can be done to stop this? The first challenge is simply keeping up with where and how much land the administration is trying to lease. In 2018, we formed a partnership with Rocky Mountain Wild to monitor new oil and gas lease sales in six western states (Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). As part of Rocky Mountain Wild’s Oil and Gas Watch program, we screen our recreation database (rock climbing sites, mountain biking, hiking, and skiing trails, and whitewater paddling runs) against new oil and gas lease parcels to identify any important places where the outdoor community can stop potential new leases.
In parallel, the outdoor community can use their power with lawmakers to ask Congress to prioritize conserving public lands. Outdoor enthusiasts have been speaking up to defend the public process, advocate for more substantive comment periods, and defend bedrock laws like the Clean Water Act and NEPA that ensure environmental review and opportunities for citizens to participate. Over the years, we have also worked with the Department of Interior and the Forest Service to make sure that land planning balances recreation and conservation fairly with development so that these kind of fire sales are less likely.
But there’s more Outdoor Alliance can do. We want to ramp up our ability to monitor new oil and gas leases. We also need to inventory current leases that are dormant, advocating for outdoor recreation and for balanced use, when necessary. We hope you’ll join us to keep a watch over our public lands, and to continue sharing your priorities with lawmakers who can fight the administration’s giveaways.
When the public lands package, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, was signed into law on February 12, it made history with 260 pages of bipartisan conservation legislation to protect national lands, reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and expand National Parks. This package was years in the making, and yet many lawmakers see it as a first step to passing much more legislation protecting and improving the outdoors during this Congress.
So if S.47 was just the first step, what’s next in the lineup?
Recently, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on opportunities to improve recreation on public lands, a crucial first step toward another major public lands and recreation package. American Whitewater’s Tom O’Keefe testified at this hearing, and Outdoor Alliance shared its testimony with the committee as well. Our belief is that there is appetite this Congress to address some important public lands policy improvements to benefit outdoor recreation.
At this point, it seems Congress is likely to prioritize recreation policy before a slew of new protections for landscapes. Some of the landscapes that were protected in the last public lands package took years and years of work to get across the finish line were in process for over a decade, but it’s still important to build momentum toward protecting special places so that we aren’t waiting another five or ten years to protect places.
The major opportunities for second public lands and recreation package include:
Improving recreation through better public land policy: the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, improvements to permitting, dedicated permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and strategies to address the maintenance backlog and secure new funding for recreation infrastructure like trails and river access points.
More landscape conservation: the CORE Act in Colorado; Wild Olympics in Washington; the Oregon Recreation Act in Oregon; Central Coast Heritage Protection Act and Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act in California; and the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area in Utah.
Climate is an urgent and complex problem that demands many voices and many solutions. Right now, our goal is to motivate lawmakers to start crucial first steps to address climate change. We can do that by being part of the groundswell of voices asking our elected leaders to step up and address this urgent issue.
Here’s what you can do now. The committee has shared with us that they are looking for stories from the outdoor community about how climate change has affected outdoor recreation. We’re compiling these stories to share in our testimony with the committee. You can also sign the petition to lawmakers from the outdoor community, asking them to take action on climate.
Click to read the whole letter to Undersecretary Hubbard
As we’ve mentioned before, the state of Utah has proposed rolling back protections on a ton of backcountry National Forest land in the state. They’ve asked the Forest Service to establish a Utah-specific Roadless Rule, proposing to roll back protections on nearly 90% of Utah’s roadless areas. According to analysis from Outdoor Alliance’s GIS Lab, this proposal would reduce or eliminate protections for nearly 80% of currently protected backcountry skiing, more than half of currently protected climbing, and 79% of the state’s currently protected paddling, hiking, and mountain biking. You can read our full letter to the head of the Forest Service here.
The Roadless Rule is a conservation measure that limits development and road building on backcountry areas of our National Forests. It has been an enormously popular rule that’s especially good at protecting recreation. While roadless areas are protected from new development, their management is less restrictive than in Wilderness, which gives important middle ground for many kinds of recreation, from mountain biking to groomed cross-country skiing.
Right now, the Forest Service is considering whether or not they will accept Utah’s petition. You can help by signing the letter to Secretary Perdue and Under Secretary Hubbard below, especially if you are a Utah resident.
Outdoor Alliance is excited to welcome Katie Hawkins as our California Organizer and the newest member of our team. We caught up with Katie to ask a few questions.
Tell us a little about how you got to Outdoor Alliance.
I am originally from Washington State and would spend nearly every summer visiting family in the Sierras and Lake Tahoe. It was these early memories that fueled my passion for the outdoors, which led me to pursue a career in the outdoor recreation industry. When I found out I was expecting my son, I knew I wanted to raise him in Truckee near Lake Tahoe. My husband I moved up here from the Bay Area at the same time I started diving into the nonprofit sector as a board member for SheJumps and the Pacific Crest Trail Association and membership director for California Outdoor Recreation Partnership. I was following my personal passions and also becoming an advocate for policy that supports outdoor recreation, conservation and social justice issues. My role at Outdoor Alliance allows me to combine the two, ensuring that my son and the rest of his generation will continue to reap the same rewards I have through exposure to the outdoors.
What do you love to do outside?
My absolute favorite is ski touring in the backcountry. I love being in the wilderness, breaking trail, and skiing pow. I feel very fortunate to live in the Sierras and have access to some of the most amazing terrain in the world. I am also a trail runner, having completed 15 marathons and just completed an ultra-marathon in Zion. One of my favorite new hobbies is just being outside with my toddler and sharing with him my love of the outdoors.
What are the public lands issues you care most about right now?
In California, I am passionate about the forest planning for Region 5. I look forward to working with the Forest Service and other key partners on building sustainable solutions for conservation in this amazing area. I am also an active supporter of strong climate legislation and look forward to the outdoor industry continuing to take a strong stance on climate policy.
What’s the next place on your bucket list?
This summer I am planning on taking my toddler on a 3-day backpacking trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail. I am excited to show him some of my favorite areas in our backyard. I’ve traveled the world and the western U.S. but there really is no place like home.
What are you most looking forward to about your new gig at Outdoor Alliance?
I am fired up to collaborate and support human-powered outdoor recreation enthusiasts in California. The timing is right for our communities to come together to spearhead strategies in protecting, promoting, and preserving this beautiful landscape. Having worked so long in the private sector, I am looking forward to leveraging my network to do good. Also, I have seen firsthand how Outdoor Alliance has achieved success in D.C., and I can’t wait to bring that same energy to California and to work on behalf of its outdoor recreation community on both the national and local level.
In the past ten years, the outdoor recreation community has punched way above its weight to protect public lands and waters, and most importantly, to help outdoor recreationists become more civically engaged participants in our democracy as it relates to conservation.
As a lean and relatively young organization, Outdoor Alliance has not been able to work on all the issues we care about. So far, we work on issues that matter deeply to the outdoor community, where no one else is likely to speak on our behalf, and where we have the best odds of seeing the result we’re looking for. In making that calculus over the past few years, there’s one huge, standout area where we could be doing more: climate change.
Climate change is the defining environmental and conservation issue of our generation, with life-or-death consequences for millions of people across the globe. People who love to get outside are already bearing witness to climate change with longer fire seasons, changes in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and hotter days are all going to affect the experiences we value.
While climate has been an indirect part of all of our work – limiting unnecessary development and defending clean air, clean water, and protected habitat are crucial measures to protect the climate – we are at a point now where it’s time to do more. We’ve helped build an engaged community that knows how to take action on issues we care about; we’ve built credibility with lawmakers, and key relationships in D.C. and around the country; and in 2019, the outdoor community can take its powerful voice and make a difference on the biggest conservation issue we face.
Climate can feel like an overwhelming problem without a clear solution. Unlike a lot of the issues we work on, the “fix” is not as simple as advocating for a single bill or solution. Instead, we view our role as being part of a necessary groundswell of support that will motivate lawmakers to do something to solve climate change. We don’t claim to be climate experts, and we don’t think you need to be either. Instead, we think the most important thing right now is to generate energy on climate, and use the power of our community to make this a top priority for lawmakers.
What is that going to look like? Basically, we want to use the same approach we always have: help outdoor recreationists become more educated on the issues; connect people with relevant and timely opportunities to engage decision makers; and share personal stories of why this issue needs to be a political priority.
We also recognize that public lands and waters aren’t just being hurt by climate change—they’re also going to be a part of the solution. As a community with expertise in land use planning, ocean planning, and rivers and hydropower, we also have an obligation to be part of a constructive process around renewable energy development, from offshore wind, to utility-scale wind and solar on public lands, to (in some circumstances) hydropower. That transition won’t be without challenges, and we need to be at the table making sure we’re saying yes to policies and proposals that make sense, and no to those that are too costly to other values.
Expect to hear more about this from us soon, and we look forward to seeing the change we hope to all make on this working together.
In January, two Colorado lawmakers, Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Joe Neguse, introduced the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act. Outdoor Alliance is fired up about this bill, which combines protection of a number of important Colorado landscapes with benefits for people who love getting outside.
Outdoor Alliance GIS Lab. Click to enlarge or view an online interactive map of the CORE Act here.
The bill brings together a number of previously-introduced bills, including the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act; and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act. Outdoor Alliance and its member groups, including IMBA and Access Fund, have worked on protecting these landscapes for more than a decade. In the CORE Act, Colorado lawmakers have taken great care to protect the world-class hiking, climbing, and mountain biking along the Continental Divide, the San Juan Mountains, and the Thompson Divide.
In the San Juans, the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area protects backcountry ski terrain near Lizard Head Pass and creates management for the Ophir Valley area for new mountain biking trails near the town of Ophir. The Liberty Bell and Whitehouse Wilderness additions protect world-class hiking and climbing opportunities in the iconic Mt. Snefflels range while allowing for a trail corridor for the iconic Liberty Bell/Hardrock 100 trail. In the Continental Divide bill, the Tenmile Wilderness and Recreation Management Areas provide opportunities for long ridgeline technical traverses, challenging backcountry ski terrain, and world class mountain biking, and the Spraddle Creek Wilderness addition provides a primitive backcountry area in close proximity to downtown Vail while keeping the future mountain bike extension of the North Vail Trail viable. These designations allow for a new Wilderness-urban interface which provides a unique opportunity to experience and protect these important landscapes. Outdoor Alliance supports the designation of Camp Hale as the first National Historic Landscape. Camp Hale is the birthplace of the 10th Mountain Division and is largely responsible for Colorado's ski industry and many modern climbing techniques and gear. The designation would honor American heroes as well as America's human-powered recreation culture. You can read Outdoor Alliance’s full testimony at right.
Generally, the hearing went well, but there were a few things of note. First, testimony from the Forest Service indicated that they supported provisions in the bill based on what’s in the existing Forest Plan. In other words, if an area is designated “recommended Wilderness” in the Forest Plan, the agency supports Wilderness designation, and conversely, they oppose it where the plan doesn’t make that specification. This is a worthwhile reminder of the importance of Forest Planning. The Forest Service even abstained from commenting on portions of the bill that affect the GMUG Forests because of the ongoing plan revision there. Consider getting involved.
The hearing was also interesting because of the opposition expressed by some committee Republicans, most notably Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-3). While Colorado Democrats support the bill, which would be enough to sidestep his objections in the Democratically-controlled House, the bill won’t go anywhere in the Senate without Republican support, in particular the support of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), and it’s hard to imagine him splitting with Rep. Tipton on this. What does this mean for you? If you’re in Colorado, particularly in Rep. Tipton’s district, please consider dropping your lawmakers a line.
This bill has broad support from outdoor recreation groups, conservation organizations, and businesses. However, we need your help to get Rep. Tipton Senator Gardner on board. If you are a Colorado resident, take a moment to send a note to your lawmakers using the tool below:
On March 14, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on opportunities to improve outdoor recreation on public lands (it was officially titled “Full Committee Hearing to Examine Opportunities to Improve Access, Infrastructure, and Permitting for Outdoor Recreation” and you can watch the full hearing here). This hearing was just two days after the President signed a historic public lands package into law, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (see it here).
Recreation is an increasingly important use for public lands, yet it gets a fraction of the protection and priority that other uses, including extraction, receive. The hearing explored opportunities to improve management of public lands for recreation, updating the permitting system, building better infrastructure and funding for public land, and growing the protection of important places.
Thomas O’Keefe, the Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director at American Whitewater and a member of Outdoor Alliance’s Joint Policy Shop, was among those invited to testify.
“When we talk about infrastructure for outdoor recreation, clean water, ancient forests, deep canyons, and majestic vistas found across our country represent the most fundamental elements for the recreational experience. The conservation of these special places, where the outdoor recreation experience takes place, is critical,” said O’Keefe. “People may begin visiting a community for outdoor recreation, but we really need to think beyond tourism to build communities that have an economic base for workers and their families who value the opportunities for close-to-home recreation.”
One of the biggest infrastructure challenges for public lands is a lack of funding from Congress. “Increasingly we are facing chronic underfunding of resource agencies to develop and maintain basic infrastructure necessary to access our public lands and waterways. Unmaintained trails, roads, and facilities fall into disrepair, diminish user experiences, and create public safety issues; ultimately the capital expenditures necessary to address the issues and bring facilities back to standard can greatly exceed the cost of what annual routine maintenance would have been and is fiscally irresponsible. In my work, finding resources to build a river access or recreational facility is challenging but being able to commit to or have stable long-term funding to maintain and manage a facility is often an insurmountable obstacle,” said O’Keefe.
Members of the committee, including committee Chair Sen. Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Sen. Wyden (D-OR) were instrumental in passing the public lands package, and have been champions of outdoor recreation and conservation issues both in their states and across the country. As recreation grows in popularity and as recreation on public lands becomes increasingly important to local economies, there is more to be done to maximize opportunities for sustainable recreation and balance the needs of conservation.
You can view O’Keefe’s full testimony by clicking at right or here, and you can view Outdoor Alliance’s full testimony by clicking at left or here. You can also view Access Fund’s full testimony by clicking here.