Category: Public Lands

Stories about public lands policy and management

What’s at Stake: Adapting to Climate Change

What’s at Stake: Adapting to Climate Change

A view of Ray Lake, on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Like other parts of the Great Plains, the region is prone to extreme dryness. (Photo by Natalie Umphlett/ via NOAA

Potential budget cuts are alarming because much of the country is already behind in adapting to climate change, including the Great Plains. Dennis Ojima, director of the North Central Climate Science Center, projects that the region will face a “dramatic increase” in the number of extremely hot days (95°F and higher) and warm nights by mid-century, regardless of any action to curb carbon emissions. The increased heat will affect patterns of rainfall and drought, forcing farmers and ranchers to experiment with growing practices and eventually plant different crops. It will stress existing infrastructure, challenging the reliability of water supplies and electric grids. The sooner managers can get ahead of these changes and begin adapting, the better.

“What’s at Stake: Adapting to Climate Change”

Audubon, November 2017

RV industry lobbies to privatize services on public lands

RV industry lobbies to privatize services on public lands

Recreational vehicles at Fishing Bridge, a RV-only camping area in Yellowstone National Park run by Xanterra Parks & Resorts (Photo: Jim Peaco/National Park Service)

At Yellowstone, Yosemite, and elsewhere, turning over national park campgrounds and other services to private companies is a common — and somewhat controversial — practice, where concessionaires offer more amenities and charge higher prices to visitors. And it may soon become even more ubiquitous in popular parks and some national forests, bringing changes that could alter the natural settings of campgrounds and public lands.

As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has begun steering the department that oversees our national parks, the RV and parks-hospitality industries appear to have their hands on the wheel. “We have been knocking on (Zinke’s) door and saying, ‘We have some great ideas, will you listen, please?’” says Derrick Crandall, who heads the National Parks Hospitality Association, the industry lobbying group for park concessionaires, and the American Recreation Coalition, which advocates for public-private partnerships. “We are excited.”

“RV industry lobbies to privatize services on public lands”

High Country News, September 29, 2017

Harry Reid exits the ring

Harry Reid exits the ring

Senator Harry Reid (UNLV Photo Services / Geri Kodey, via Center for American Progress Action Fund)

Senator Harry Reid retired in December 2016 at age 77, leaving an impressive public-lands legacy, forged through compromises. During his five terms in Congress, Nevada went from having fewer than 67,000 acres of federal wilderness to nearly 3.4 million acres, plus new national parks and conservation areas. “And every piece of legislation was mine,” says Reid. “It hurt my political career in some places, but it was worth it because it was good for the state.”

Reid traces his own environmental awareness to his youthful visits to Piute Springs, a Mojave Desert oasis a day’s bumpy drive from the remote mining town of Searchlight, where he grew up. When he returned home as an adult to show his wife his beloved refuge, the springs and a nearby old military fort had been trashed. “Since that day, I have done everything I can to preserve the environment,” Reid says, including helping to create the Mojave Natural Preserve, which protected the springs.

A Mormon convert and one-time boxer, Reid paired a commitment to Nevada and the environment with a pragmatic but stubborn tenacity. Representing a state with minimal, albeit growing, political influence, Reid became the Democrats’ ranking Senate leader. He jockeyed Obamacare and the 2009 stimulus package through a polarized Congress. He fended off plans to locate a high-level nuclear waste dump in Nevada, and helped develop his state’s renewable energy industry. And while his environmental record isn’t spotless, his accomplishments serve as proof of his ability to flat-out get things done in Washington.

“Harry Reid exits the ring”

High Country News, February 20, 2017

Harvesting in the Park

Harvesting in the Park

Park Service biologists Tania Lewis and Christopher Behnke work with Huna Tlingit tribal member Charlie Wright to record data from a glaucous-winged gull egg. (Photo: NPS)

For centuries, Tlingit people of southeast Alaska lived, hunted, fished, and gathered at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay, abandoning and rebuilding settlements as glaciers advanced and retreated during and after the Little Ice Age. But a different historic episode froze the tribe out of the area in 1925 when the National Park Service designated Glacier Bay a national monument and banned Tlingits from their ancestral homeland.

Now, the Huna Tlingit and Park Service are ushering in the tribe’s return to Glacier Bay, with the new tribal house and a renewal of traditional harvesting of glaucous-winged gull eggs in the park.

The progress at Glacier Bay is one sign of how the Park Service is rebuilding its relationships with tribes. In its centennial year, the agency clarified a rule to enable native plant gathering in national parks, and has officially recognized the importance of tribal knowledge and practices tied to the natural world—called traditional ecological knowledge (TEK)—in guiding park management.

“Harvesting in the Park”

Hakai Magazine, September 7, 2016

Keepers of the Flame

Keepers of the Flame

Prairie burn at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Washington (Photo via UWFWS – Pacific Region)

Across the West, a century of vigilant fire suppression has left many forests and prairies dangerously overgrown and degraded, prone to catastrophic wildfires that destroy homes and habitat. Members of The Nature Conservancy’s Southern Rockies Wildland Fire Module, a traveling fire crew of specially trained experts, spend their share of time wrangling wildfires. But they are also applying a science-based strategy to reintroduce and manage fire on the landscapes that naturally need it.

There are just a dozen or so certified Type 1 Wildland Fire Modules across the country, highly trained groups of firefighters prepared to dispatch quickly to remote terrain, equipped with enough gear and food for at least two weeks. Most are run by the National Park Service or Forest Service. The Conservancy’s module is unique for being nongovernmental, and it is dedicated to not only fighting fires but also lighting them. Its members are trained to use prescribed burns—blazes ignited under carefully controlled conditions—and to manage, rather than just suppress, naturally occurring fires as part of a healthy ecosystem.

Since its creation in 2008, this Colorado-based crew has carried out about 60 prescribed burns on some 16,000 acres, and trained hundreds to tackle similar work.


“Keepers of the Flame”

Nature Conservancy Magazine, August/September 2016