Tag: public lands

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

‘Keep It in the Ground’ prompts online oil and gas leasing auctions

‘Keep It in the Ground’ prompts online oil and gas leasing auctions

Climate activists protest a BLM oil and gas lease sale in Denver in May 2016 (JZ)

Lease sales, where energy companies bid for the right to drill for oil and gas on federal land, used to be mundane events. But lately they’ve become raucous, with climate activists in Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno urging the government to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Eventually, they hope to end public-lands drilling altogether.

In response, some industry leaders want auctions to move online — eBay style. The Bureau of Land Management agrees, and will host its first online sale this September. Explaining the move to Congress this March, BLM Director Neil Kornze said online sales are cheaper to host and will speed up transactions. He added that the agency is on “heightened alert” and concerned about safety as a result of incidents like the militia occupation at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. “And so a situation that we are not used to — separating out who is a bidder and who is not — gives us pause,” Kornze said.

So far, environmentalists are uncertain whether an online system will help or hurt their cause. “If this is part of a broader effort to make BLM processes more efficient and transparent, it’s a great idea,” says Nada Culver, director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. But if it simply allows energy companies to escape growing scrutiny, “it’s not progress.”

“‘Keep It in the Ground’ prompts online oil and gas leasing auctions”

High Country News, July 20, 2016

How will Trump act on conservation and public lands?

How will Trump act on conservation and public lands?

Donald Trump Jr. speaks with Field & Stream editor Mike Toth at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Western Media Summit, June 2016 (JZ)

While speaking at a media summit in June 2016 in Fort Collins, Colorado, Donald Trump Jr. defended keeping federal lands managed by the government and open to the public. He also reiterated his father’s strong support for U.S. energy development, proposed some corporate sponsorships in national parks, questioned humans’ role in climate change, and criticized Hillary Clinton for “pandering” to hunters with “phoniness.”

Trump Jr. has served as an adviser to his father on natural-resources issues and has even joked with family that, should his father win, he’d like to be Secretary of the Interior, overseeing national parks and millions of acres of federal public lands. In Fort Collins, he said he’s not “the policy guy,” but repeated his frequent pledge to be a “loud voice” for preserving public lands access for sportsmen. Trump Jr. also mocked some gun-control measures, such as ammunition limits, boasting, “I have a thousand rounds of ammunition in my vehicle almost at all times because it’s called two bricks of .22 … You know, I’ll blow…through that with my kids on a weekend.”

“How will Trump act on conservation and public lands?”

High Country News, June 28, 2016

Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds

Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds

Farm in the Bitterroot Valley, with the Bitterroot National Forest beyond, in Ravalli County, Montana (Via Wikimedia Commons)

In 2011, Ravalli County (Montana) Commissioner Suzy Foss asked American Stewards of Liberty for help. The Texas-based nonprofit trains local governments to use “coordination,” an often-overlooked provision in key environmental laws that govern land management. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act specifically directs the Bureau of Land Management to “coordinate the land use inventory, planning, and management activities” with states, local governments and tribes. The National Forest Management Act includes similar language for the Forest Service.

According to American Stewards Executive Director Margaret Byfield, coordination means that federal agencies must involve counties and states in planning and give them an “equal position at the negotiating table” for decision-making. “It is,” she says, “pretty straightforward.” The nonprofit says over 100 local governments have invoked coordination to fight land-use restrictions since 2006.

Many groups, including environmentalists, try to influence land management with scientific research and alternative management proposals, but policy experts say that the coordination movement has a distinctly anti-federal government flavor — a Sagebrush Rebellion in bureaucratic clothing, with links to state efforts to take over federal lands. Coordination proponents are “essentially arguing a county would have veto authority on federal land decisions,” says Martin Nie, director of the Bolle Center for People and Forests at the University of Montana. And federal officials, who interpret “coordination” very differently, fear it’s stoking more conflicts than it resolves by misinforming locals.

But though critics, including federal land managers, may dismiss American Stewards’ interpretation of coordination, it’s gaining traction among state and U.S. lawmakers and Western governors. “It has no legal basis, but it’s as much about trying to frame things politically,” Nie says.These proposals are pushing way, way outside the mainstream.”

“Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds “

High Country News, May 11, 2015

Busting Out of Boom and Bust

Busting Out of Boom and Bust

Methane flaring from natural gas well (image via Ecowatch)
Methane flaring from natural gas well (image via Ecowatch)

From the growing mountain town of Carbondale, Jock Jacober and his three sons operate Crystal River Meats, processing grass-fed beef that he and other local ranchers raise. Started in 1999, the specialty business has grown to distribute to Whole Foods and Natural Grocers supermarkets. Most of the ranchers rely on U.S. Forest Service grazing leases in Coal Basin and other designated roadless parcels in the Thompson Divide. “For 100 years, guys have been running cattle up there,” Jacober says. “It’s a good place to grow food for the valley.”

Jacober, the son of a petroleum geologist, says, “I’ve watched energy development all my life across the West.” …  In the past decade, companies have employed hydraulic fracturing—the use of chemical-laden fluids to crack open and reach shale-rock and tight-sands formations—to drill tens of thousands of oil and gas wells on private and public lands in western Colorado, and the industry isn’t done yet. This latest boom in the West’s energy cycle threatens the region’s landscape on a scale larger than any other.

While ranchers like Jacober hold grazing leases in the Thompson Divide, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has leased the mineral rights to the ground underneath for oil and gas exploration. Since 2008, Jacober and other locals have been working to protect the expansive public landscape.

“Virtually all of the guys we run with think that if you get development started up there, we’ll eventually be out of business,” says Jacober, who sits on the board of directors of the Thompson Divide Coalition, a group of ranchers, local officials, farmers, river runners, hunters, and environmentalists. “There won’t be range for cattle anymore. It’ll be range for trucks hauling water and fracking fluid and for pipelines.”

“Busting Out of Boom and Bust”

Sierra Magazine, July/August 2013

 

One Last Look Across the Range

One Last Look Across the Range

BobAbbey
Bob Abbey speaking at public meeting in eastern Montana, September 2010

The chief of America’s largest land-management agency sat down to share some parting wisdom with me before retiring and after nearly 3 decades of working on environmental challenges across the West.

My interview with former director U.S. Bureau of Land Management director Bob Abbey, “Abbey’s Road,” ran online for High Country News in October 2012.

 

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Serendipity in the Desert

Serendipity in the Desert

Anti-government Sagebrush Rebels have long ruled local decision-making in southern Utah, but change is in the air with the infusion of wilderness wanderers and animal aficionados.

My January 24, 2011 cover story for High Country News, “Utah’s Sagebrush Rebellion capital mellows as animal-lovers and enviros move in,” reports on the region’s swirling social, political and environmental dynamics, from antigovernment protests over public lands to failed bikini bans to supposedly uphold local, social values.

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