Super article by Kyle Dunphey of the Deseret News. A bipartisan bill (cosponsors Manchin and Barasso) from an easterner and a westerner. The story has links to the bill summary, who’s for and who’s “agin”, and the below summary of ten key takeaways from the 155-page bill.
So National Parks count as “protected” areas under 30 x 30. But NPS employees and the National Parks Conservation Association are worried about too many people causing environmental degradation. The logical thing is to think.. maybe they shouldn’t count at some point, then, or some places within a larger park shouldn’t count as “protected”. Perhaps Parks should become certified to a “protected from humans certification” like the recreation equivalent of FSC or SFI before they can count toward “protection” goals, with third party verification? Anyway, here’s the story.
“Lot Full” signs are in high demand at Arches National Park, where increasing visitation has resulted in frequent park closures and popular trailheads overflowing with tourists.
One of the provisions in the bill is to increase parking, mainly for land managed by the Forest Service and Department of the Interior.
But due to a deferred maintenance backlog, which refers to projects that have been postponed due to budget constraints, the bill allows agencies to partner with the private sector “and lease non-federal land for parking opportunities.”
Parking is a hot debate, at least for National Park advocates, who worry that more parking will lead to more visitors that could result in more environmental degradation, search and rescue calls, wildfire risk and traffic.
“We could totally build a five-story parking garage but do you want to add that many people to the trail? What would that do to the experience while you’re hiking if you’re shoulder to shoulder and you’re waiting hours to get a picture under the arch,” ranger Melissa Hulls, visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches, told the Deseret News in September.
The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management will be required to maintain at least one designated shooting range for each district under the bill. The ranges will not require a fee.
The bill piggybacks on former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s wish to see more shooting ranges in national monuments. But some environmental groups warn that more target shooting could lead to increased wildfire risk and vandalism.
‘Long distance’ biking
Under the bill, federal land management agencies — specifically the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service — need to identify at least 10 long distance bike trails, defined as a system with at least 80 miles on federal land.
Agencies will also need to identify 10 additional areas for trail development. For existing trails, the agencies need to “publish and distribute maps, install signage, and issue promotional materials.”
In a push to expand internet access on public land and rural communities, the BLM and Forest Service would be directed to identify “high priority” recreation sites that lack broadband.
The agencies would then estimate the cost to develop broadband infrastructure, and if necessary, partner with the Rural Utilities Service under the Department of Agriculture.
The National Parks and Conservation Association, however, says the provision raises concerns, and agencies need to first understand “the extensive use of and impacts to natural and cultural resources to build and maintain broadband at recreation sites within the National Park system.”
Defining ‘peak season’
Moab locals can confirm — the busy season is growing, inching into traditionally slow parts of the year.
In an effort to “better understand visitor trends” the Department of the Interior would be directed to examine the impact seasonal closures have on local tax revenue, while looking for opportunities to extend the time certain public lands are open.
“This section directs the agencies to make efforts to minimize seasonal closures on lands where such closures prevent recreational activities that provide economic benefits,” the bill reads.
Hotels and housing for gateway communities
Moab locals can also confirm that finding housing in the southern Utah gateway, whether as a renter or buyer, is a monumental task. Housing shortages in mountain towns and park-adjacent communities are driving locals out and resulting in labor shortages.
Under Manchin and Barrasso’s bill, the Department of the Interior will identify solutions to housing shortages, working with local governments, housing authorities, trade associations and nonprofits.
The bill also instructs the department to “provide financial and technical assistance to gateway communities to establish, operate, or expand infrastructure to accommodate visitation including hotels and restaurants.”
Climbing on Forest Service land
A brief provision in the bill says the Forest Service will “issue guidance” on climbing management in designated wilderness areas.
The bill is not entirely clear on what that “guidance” will be, but gives the agency 18 months to develop a plan that will consider the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the “appropriateness” of recreational climbing, placement and maintenance of fixed anchors and the use of other climbing equipment.
New digital tools
Several provisions in the bill seek to improve access to real-time data, permits and reservations. Consider this:
- The National Parks and Federal Land Pass would be available in digital format.
- Through a pilot program, the public could obtain real-time visitation data on federal land.
- Land agencies would experiment with new, more intuitive, ways to tally visitor data.
- Tourists who reserved visitation to public lands that require reservations or permits, could notify agencies of certain days they will not use — those days are then granted to guide companies and the unguided public.
Again turning to the public-private partnership model, the bill requires agencies to develop a pilot program to modernize campgrounds and buildings on Forest Service and BLM land.
Agreements with private companies would not last more than 30 years, and within three years of obtaining land use authorization, the company is required to spend at least $2 million on improvements.
Filming and photographing public lands
Buried at the end of the bill is a provision that would “modernize film and photography permitting on public lands to account for changing technology and social media.”
Production crews of less than eight people would not have to obtain a permit. Any filming or photography “that is merely incidental to an otherwise authorized or allowable activity” will not need a permit, either.
As always, readers are invited to link to their own organizations’ bill analysis.