There’s a bipartisan bill in Congress to make it easier for folks to get permits for commercial recreation on National Forests. I don’t know if more (outfitters and people) are better but it should be interesting to discuss!
Jonathan Thompson of High Country News, seems to think more tourism can be better.. than the alternative in this piece.
In its place, despite the relatively primitive conveniences of this national monument, is the hint of commercialism that comes wherever tourism trumps every other way of making a living. And there are so many people now, intent on adoring the place so thoroughly that they wear it down like water on sandstone. They stream through relentlessly in cars and buses, their cameras clicking…..
Maybe the national monument designation has drawn more people. But what’s the alternative? Would leaving it as it is — open to oil and gas leasing, uranium mining, or wind or solar energy development — really keep the crowds at bay? And even if it did, at what cost?
According to this school of thought, commercializing federal lands is fine, as long as it’s for tourism. Now, if climate change is the Most Important Thing, I’d think we’d want to have uranium mining and wind and solar energy development more than people using gas-powered vehicles and planes to get to places for fun; but.. maybe not. There are also the impacts of more people on water supplies and waste disposal, and the fact that tourism has low-paying, not family wage jobs compared to other industries. We’ve all seen this happen throughout the west. I think the social and economic justice facets of these questions have not been adequately explored. Thompson also has a story on crowds on the public lands.
Meanwhile, the Denver Post had an this story: Colorado Guides Can’t Get Enough Permits on Federal Lands.
“It is arguably absurd to place so many barriers in front of the opportunity for the public to go with the assistance of a professional,” Wade said, because guided tours are less likely to harm the environment. “To limit that is absolutely puzzling.”
If you have 200 people with 10 units of impact each versus 20 people with 20 units.. (we can all do the math, it depends on whether more people would ultimately come with guides and how much less likely they are to harm the environment).
In some places, agencies won’t issue permits because they haven’t conducted environmental assessments and don’t have the staff to conduct those assessments. The result is effectively a freeze on hiking tours in places such as Blanca Peak and Little Bear Peak, according to Wade, as well as on backcountry skiing at Berthoud Pass in Clear Creek County.
The Forest Service did not respond to a Denver Post email this week asking whether the agency is unable to issue recreational permits because it lacks the staff to do so.
What else would they be doing? And is this the best use of the recreation staff’s time when they’re already overburdened keeping up? Many other folks who have this problem simply contract or do their own with FS oversight. It sounds like, though, some don’t believe they have impacts, individually or cumulatively. And of course, some outfitters guide recreationists on activities fairly low on the Pyramid of Pristinity, including OHVs, snowmobiles, mountain bikes and so on. I don’t know about rafting and heli-skiing. It is true that guided tours might get people to behave better but I don’t think that’s known empirically. And what kind of monitoring occurs by the FS of these folks?
These permitting problems exist nationwide. Guide groups from all of the Mountain West states have asked Congress to address the issue since 2019, as have companies in Alaska, California and West Virginia. Senators representing nearly every western state are cosponsoring the current bill to do so.
When permits are issued, they’re too narrow in scope, guides say. For example, the Mountaineers, a Seattle-based nonprofit guide group, teaches rock climbing in a national forest in Washington. But its permit does not allow it to teach the very similar skill of rock scrambling, the group’s conservation and advocacy director Betsy Robblee told a House subcommittee on public lands hearing on June 8.
“We spend an enormous amount of staff and volunteer time navigating the various permitting processes of land management agencies. These convoluted systems are equally as challenging for under-resourced land managers to administer,” Robblee said.
So we have the crush of more people. Is it better to get more guided opportunities or will that just add more people to the mix. Is it better to get more people out there? If more trails and floating opportunities are by reservation, how will the FS decide what is the right ratio for guided versus independent users? I’m sure they already do that in places).