The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Politics

Could Ecotourism Help Solve the Wild Horse Problem?

Photo: Christinamari/Flickr

The Bureau of Land Management is in a pickle. And wild horse advocates are fuming. At issue is what the BLM considers unsustainably large herds of wild horses on 26 million acres of BLM land across 10 Western States. Each year, the BLM removes thousands of wild horses from its range lands and places them in medium or long term holding areas, run by contractors but paid for by the government. From there, some are adopted but most remain, to live out the rest of their not-so-wild days.

The BLM reckons that across the West, there are 38,500 wild horses and it says it will reduce that by about 12,000 in order to keep the herds robust and to prevent harm to their range lands. Wild horse advocates say the BLM number doesn't reflect reality, and that reducing the herds by 12,000 would actually make their numbers unsustainably low. And they claim that the means by which the BLM rounds up wild horses is inhumane and illegal. The real reason the government wants to reduce the wild herds, they say, is to accommodate the interests of livestock ranchers and energy companies that want access to the range.

All of this has makes the BLM wild horse program contentious, to say they least. But the agency is now considering a new management tool: "ecosanctuaries" for wild horses, which could generate eco-tourism around viewing wild horses in their (at least, close to) natural state. It's not a new idea -- Madeleine Pickens has long wanted to start a large sanctuary called Mustang Monument where the public could come view wild horse herds from the BLM's "excess" stock. The agency said the economics of her plan weren't acceptable, but it is now on the cusp of permitting an ecosanctuary in Wyoming.

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Plan for Major Chairlift Network to Link Utah Resorts Raises Concerns

Big_little_cottonwood_signHeading toward the Wasatch resorts. Photo: Flickr/CountryLemonade

Vail Resorts this week announced that it is acquiring Northern California's Kirkwood Resort. Some of K-Wood's loyal fansare is dismayed, fearing that admission into Vail's empire could change Kirkwood's small-resort vibe. But that's nothing compared to the ire raised in Salt Lake City this week when Senator Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, introduced a resolution to support a plan that would link all seven ski resorts in Salt Lake County and Summit County by chairlift.

On its face, it seems as though the proposal could have environmental benefits, through reduced vehicle traffic into both Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon, parallel canyons that access Park City and its adjacent resort, and Alta and its adjacent resorts. But environmental groups, including Save Our Canyons and figures within the ski and snowboard communities, say that constructing and maintaining the chairlifts would threaten the canyon watersheds and outweight any benefits from reduced congestion. Plus, skiers and snowboarders would still need to get themselves into either canyon, and the resolution does not call for any city-based tram.

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Should Dogs Be Allowed Off Leash in Some National Parks?

Headlands_advencapGolden Gate National Recreation Area, Photo: Flickr/advencap

It's the kind of story that makes conservationists hopeful. After years of staving off development and raising funds, the Peninsula Open Space Trust purchased 4,000 acres south of San Francisco, called Rancho Corral de Tierra, and convinced the Park Service to add it to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This addition represents a boon for hikers, bird watchers, and naturalists, and it will boost efforts to protect threatened species within the tract. But not everyone is happy about the changes that inclusion in the Park System has brought.

Unlike some areas of the GGNRA nearer to San Francisco that allow dogs to be walked off leash, the National Park Service, of which the GGNRA is a part, decided to include a leash requirement to Rancho Corral de Tierra when it assumed control of the area in December. Previously, there were no such restrictions and many locals and dog walkers used the area and its network of makeshift trails to run their dogs. The new rule recently led to an incident that grabbed national headlines: a National Park Service Ranger tasered a man who was walking his dogs without a leash in Rancho Corral de Tierra.

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Strip Mine Near Bryce Canyon NP Drawing Heat

The Bureau of Land Management is getting an earful over its tentative approval of a lease to Alton Coal Development LLC, a group of Florida investors that want to expand an existing coal mining operation into public lands close to Bryce Canyon National Park.

The existing mine, on private land, is about 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, is already disrupting the peace at park, says the National Park Service.  The expansion would bring the noise, dust and light created by the mining activity even closer, degrading the park and hurting tourism.

Joining the NPS in its objection to the expansion is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, which says the expansion would harm, or even wipe out, the southern populations of the greater sage grouse, a bird that has already found itself in the midst of a long battle between conservationists, ranchers, and energy developers in other parts of the West.

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Coloradans Sue BLM for Over the River, Christo Shrugs

Sketch_christoPhoto: Copyright Christo

There's nothing like a mountain community scorned. As Colorado's Fremont County weighs its decision on whether to grant a land use permit to public artist Christo so he can hang a series of translucent fabric panels above the Arkansas River, hundreds of opponents and supporters gathered at two public meetings this week, in Canon City and Cotopaxi, Colorado. The county's board of commissioners could decide on whether to grant a temporary land use permit for the project as soon as its February 28 meeting.

Christo and his vocal supporters say the art will draw tourism and dollars to the communities along the river. Opponents say the work will hamper traffic on Highway 50, endanger public health and hurt wildlife along the river, and they've escalated their fight this week, filing a lawsuit that claims the Bureau of Land Management violated federal land management and environmental laws when it approved the project late last year. Christo says it's all part of the process.

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