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Utah’s federal land take-over plan stalls

Updated 1-6-15 with more info from the Associated Press.

PUBLIC LANDS — Do you get the feeling this federal land-grab frenzy is all about local politicians courting voters — while taxpayers pick up the tab?

Utah's deadline for federal handover of lands comes and goes
Last Wednesday was the deadline Utah set for the federal government to hand over an estimated 31 million acres of land to the state, but the Dec. 31 deadline passed with no such transfer and now Utah is contemplating its next move.

Meanwhile, in Idaho:

UI study estimates millions in costs to state for federal lands takeover

Here's more information on the story from the Associated Press:

Utah gears up for lands fight as deadline passes

By MICHELLE L. PRICE/Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY  — A deadline Utah set for the federal government to hand over 31 million acres of public land quietly passed this week with no such transfer, something predicted by both critics and supporters of the state’s push for control.

Republican Ken Ivory, a state representative who spearheaded Utah’s push, said the passing of the Dec. 31 deadline shows that the federal government doesn’t seem willing to negotiate the issue.

“Like in any demand letter, you put a target date so you know where you stand,” Ivory said. Utah Republican leaders instead are laying the groundwork to push the issue in court, though it’s not clear when the state might file a lawsuit.

Critics say Utah has no legal claim to the land and it’s not surprising the federal government didn’t simply give up the land.

“It’s unfortunate that the Legislature and the governor are going to waste Utah taxpayer’s money chasing this pipe dream,” said Stephen Bloch, the legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department is in charge of about 46 percent of Utah’s land “has made it clear that it’s a waste of time and resources for Utah to debate” taking over the land, department spokesman Jessica Kershaw said Friday.

“Rather, she’s stated that a more constructive discussion should focus around how state and federal partners can work together on the thoughtful management of public lands,” she said.

Here’s a look at where Utah’s land demand stands going into 2015:

THE PUSH

Utah passed a law in 2012 demanding the federal government give up about 31 million acres, about 50 percent of the state, by Dec. 31, 2014. Utah’s officials argue the state would be a better manager and local control would allow Utah to make money from taxes and development rights on those acres.

Much of the land Utah seeks is currently controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. National parks and monuments, military bases and wilderness areas are exempt from the demand.

HOW THEY’LL TRY

Lawmakers are preparing for a potential lawsuit to push the issue in the next year or so. The Utah Legislature has set aside $2 million to prepare a legal fight for the state attorney general to pursue. A state public lands commission is in the process of hiring special lawyers to help them prepare strategies for a lawsuit.

Parker Douglas, the federal solicitor in the Utah attorney general’s office, said the office has started drafting a potential lawsuit, but there’s no timeline for pursing it. Douglas said the office is waiting to see what progress the state’s congressional delegation can make on the issue.

WILL IT WORK?

Ivory and other supporters of the land transfer say the state’s legal claim lies in the Utah Enabling Act, which led to Utah’s statehood in 1896. Critics have disputed that argument, and the Legislature’s own attorneys warned in 2012 that the demand and any attempt to enforce it would likely be found unconstitutional.

If Utah pursues a lawsuit, the state attorney general’s office has warned lawmakers they need to avoid flawed theories or inconsistent arguments used by western states in the 1970s and 1980s during a similar push known as the Sagebrush Rebellion.

IF UTAH GAINS CONTROL

Utah lawmakers have pointed to an 800-page report released in December as to how the state could afford to manage the land. The report, which cost $500,000, found that oil and gas leases would allow Utah to afford the $280 million annual cost of managing the land, but only if those prices remained high.

Economists warned that if oil prices remain low, as they are now, Utah would have to increase drilling, raise costs for drilling companies or find other ways to make money. The state would also be at the mercy of national and international changes that could cut demand, such as greenhouse gas regulations.

Ivory said Utah would find ways to cut land management costs while making money beyond just oil and gas. For example, Utah could cut the risk of large, expensive wildfires by opening forests to logging.

Democrats and environmental groups have said it’s a pie-in-the-sky scenario for all factors to align to make it sustainable or even profitable for Utah.

OTHER STATES

Montana, Wyoming and Nevada have passed resolutions or requested studies of the legal arguments and costs and benefits of the issue. Idaho passed a resolution in 2013 demanding the federal government hand over control of public land in that state, but a state committee studying the issue now says working with Washington, D.C., for a solution will work better than issuing a demand. The committee is set to issue a recommendation this month about how Idaho should pursue the land.

 

Plan ahead for free entry to federal lands Nov. 9-11

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal and state land managers offer fee-free entry days to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.

  • The last big freebie of the year is Nov. 8-11 — Veterans Day Weekend — with free entry to virtually all the federal public lands.  NOTE: National Parks are offering free entry only on Nov. 11.
  • Washington State Parks will waive the Discover Pass requirement on Nov. 11.

The fee waivers do not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation or special tours.

N. Cascades Highway closing for construction

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — A 10-mile stretch of North Cascades Highway in northcentral Washington will be closed for 34 hours starting Tuesday morning, with no detour route.

From 6 a.m. Tuesday through 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21-22, Highway 20 will be closed between Granite Creek and Rainy Pass (mileposts 147 to 157). During the closure, crews will replace culverts that were damaged in mudslides.

"That’s closed as in ’you can’t get there from here,’ because there is no detour," the Department of Transportation said in a lighthearted news release.

H i g h w a y 2 0 w i l l reopen after the culverts are replaced, the agency said.

And, assuming it doesn’t snow a lot between now and then, the road will remain open until heavy snows force the annual winter closure.

  • Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road over Logan Pass in Montana closes for the season today.

Even in national parks, wildlife subject to vehicle collisions

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Why did the deer cross the road and risk its life against speeding vehicles?

Because it wanted to get to the other side, the way it evolved to move from cover to feed, bedding spot to water, and summer range to winter range over the centuries.

Tough year for wildlife in Canada's mountain parks
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 6, 10 black bears and one grizzly bear were struck and killed by vehicles or trains in Yoho and Kootenay national parks in B.C. and Banff National Park in Alberta; 16 elk have died on the parks' roads, as have five moose, three wolves and one cougar. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Plan ahead for free entry at federal, state lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.  

  • Washington State Parks also sets dates for fee-free entry. 

The first freebie date of the year links to National Wildlife Refuge Week.

Following is a list of other free-entry dates and participating federal agencies, which vary by holiday: 

  • Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 15-17 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Park Week opening weekend, April 19-20 — National Park Service.
  • National Get Outdoors Day, June 14 — national forests.
  • National Park Service Birthday, Aug. 25 — National Park Service.
  • National Public Lands Day, Sept. 27 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Wildlife Refuge Week, first day, Oct 12 — National wildlife refuges. 
  • Veterans Day, Nov. 11 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests.

Washington State Parks also offer 11 days in which the Discover Pass is not needed for entry in 2014:

  • Jan. 19 and 20 – Martin Luther King holiday.
  • March 19 – Washington State Parks birthday.
  • April 19 – Spring Saturday Free Day.
  • April 22 – Earth Day.
  • May 11 – Spring Sunday Free Day.
  • June 7 and 8 – National Trails Day and WDFW Free Fishing Weekend.
  • June 14 – National Get Outdoors Day.
  • Aug. 25 – In honor of National Park Service’s birthday.
  • Sept. 27 –National Public Lands Day.
  • Nov. 11 – Veterans Day holiday.

Read on for details about year-round free or discounted passes for military, disabled and seniors.

Man charged $3K for crashing drone in Yellowstone

PUBLIC LANDS — Here's the outcome of one of the cases in Yellowstone that helped the National Park Service solidify its policy to ban the use of drones in our national parks.

Man fined for crashing drone in Yellowstone Park's Grand Prismatic Spring
A visitor from the Netherlands who crashed a drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park was fine $1,000 and must pay more than $2,000 in restitution costs for the illegal use of the drone, which is still in the spring and may not be recoverable.

After photo op, climbers fined for altering rock in Utah park

PUBLIC LANDS — A picture is worth a thousand words, and also $4,000 dollars to law-breaking climbers in Utah.

Their moment of glory doing illegal route modifications in a national park was expensive in the long run.

Photo used in Patagonia catalog leads to fines for rock climbers in Utah
A photo used in a 2011 Patagonia catalog of rock climbers in the Grand Wash area of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah led to a Park Service investigation, and the charging of the two rock climbers and a third person who helped modify the route used for violations under the Park System Resource Protection Act.
Salt Lake Tribune

Plan ahead for free entry at federal, state lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.  

  • Washington State Parks also sets dates for fee-free entry. 

The first freebie date of the year is National Public Lands Day.

Following is a list of other free-entry dates and participating federal agencies, which vary by holiday: 

  • Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 15-17 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Park Week opening weekend, April 19-20 — National Park Service.
  • National Get Outdoors Day, June 14 — national forests.
  • National Park Service Birthday, Aug. 25 — National Park Service.
  • National Public Lands Day, Sept. 27 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Wildlife Refuge Week, first day, Oct 12 — National wildlife refuges. 
  • Veterans Day, Nov. 11 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests.

Washington State Parks also offer 11 days in which the Discover Pass is not needed for entry in 2014:

  • Jan. 19 and 20 – Martin Luther King holiday.
  • March 19 – Washington State Parks birthday.
  • April 19 – Spring Saturday Free Day.
  • April 22 – Earth Day.
  • May 11 – Spring Sunday Free Day.
  • June 7 and 8 – National Trails Day and WDFW Free Fishing Weekend.
  • June 14 – National Get Outdoors Day.
  • Aug. 25 – In honor of National Park Service’s birthday.
  • Sept. 27 –National Public Lands Day.
  • Nov. 11 – Veterans Day holiday.

Read on for details about year-round free or discounted passes for military, disabled and seniors.

It’s winter high in Glacier Park; Sun Road closed

NATIONAL PARKS — Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road continues to be closed today after winter-like conditions shrouded the high country earlier this week.

Be ready for anything when heading to the mountains.

Yellowstone opens lottery for snowmobilers

WINTERSPORTS — Here's Yellowstone's latest plan to harness use of snowmobiles in the one of the nation's greatest wildlife parks.

Yellowstone NP to launch lottery for private snowmobile trips today
Under Yellowstone National Park's winter-use plan, snowmobiling without a guide will be allowed once again, with permits for parties of up to five snow machines through each of the park's four entrances each day to be issued via a lottery system that begins TODAY, Sept. 10, 2014.
—Jackson Hole Daily

Another drone flyer ticketed in Yellowstone

PUBLIC LANDS — If you go to a national park, leave the drone in the trunk and enjoy the scenery and wildlife the old-fashioned way.

German man formally charged for drone crash in Yellowstone Lake
Following an investigation of a drone crash near the marina of Yellowstone Lake, a German man faces four federal charges, including violating Yellowstone National Park's ban on the use of unmanned aircraft in the park. He's the third drone operator to get a ticket from rangers.
-Jackson Hole News & Guide;

Utah parks officially ban use of drones

PUBLIC LANDS — National Parks in Utah are uniting to take action on the June proclamation to ban unmanned aircraft in national parks across the United States.

Drones banned in national parks, monuments in Utah
The use of unmanned aircraft in Arches and Canyonlands parks as well as Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments in Utah was formally banned Monday, amid an increase in the use of drones by photographers and videographers and an increase in complaints about such use.
—Salt Lake Tribune

Record number of visitors to Glacier park in July

PUBLIC LANDS — National Park Service officials say July 2014 was the busiest that Glacier National Park has ever seen.

The park service’s statistics office says nearly 700,000 people visited the northwestern Montana park last month.

The previous record for July was just shy of 690,000, in 1983.

The statistics office keeps monthly visitation records going back to 1979.

The park’s year-to-date visitor count is 1.2 million, which is nearly 5 percent higher than this time a year ago.

However, the number of people staying overnight declined 5.3 percent, and overnight stays in the backcountry dropped 15 percent.

Plan ahead for free entry at federal, state lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.  

  • Washington State Parks also sets dates for fee-free entry. 

The first freebie date of the year links to the National Park Service birthday.

Following is a list of other free-entry dates and participating federal agencies, which vary by holiday: 

  • Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 15-17 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Park Week opening weekend, April 19-20 — National Park Service.
  • National Get Outdoors Day, June 14 — national forests.
  • National Park Service Birthday, Aug. 25 — National Park Service.
  • National Public Lands Day, Sept. 27 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Wildlife Refuge Week, first day, Oct 12 — National wildlife refuges. 
  • Veterans Day, Nov. 11 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests.

Washington State Parks also offer 11 days in which the Discover Pass is not needed for entry in 2014:

  • Jan. 19 and 20 – Martin Luther King holiday.
  • March 19 – Washington State Parks birthday.
  • April 19 – Spring Saturday Free Day.
  • April 22 – Earth Day.
  • May 11 – Spring Sunday Free Day.
  • June 7 and 8 – National Trails Day and WDFW Free Fishing Weekend.
  • June 14 – National Get Outdoors Day.
  • Aug. 25 – In honor of National Park Service’s birthday.
  • Sept. 27 –National Public Lands Day.
  • Nov. 11 – Veterans Day holiday.

Read on for details about year-round free or discounted passes for military, disabled and seniors.

Drone wreckage beginning to litter Yellowstone

PUBLIC LANDS — There's a clear case to be made in terms of safety, privacy and stewardship for requiring people to get special permits in order to use drones on public lands.

And for now, the ban on using drones in national parks gets a big thumbs up.

Another drone meets a watery end in Yellowstone National Park
Since the National Park Service recently banned the use of drones on the 84 million acres under its jurisdiction, violations have been sporadic in Yellowstone National Park. In two cases, the violators' drones have met a watery end: The first plopped into Yellowstone Lake.

The latest one crashed in Grand Prismatic, the park's well-known hot spring, where the 160-degree water makes retrieval of the unmanned aircraft unlikely.

— Jackson Hole News & Guide

Glacier Park warns hikers of hazardous high country travel

HIKING — While I'm writing an upcoming Sunday Outdoors story on a similar topic, Glacier National Park is warning hikes to be prepared for dealing with hazardous snowfields at high elevations even in lake July after a week of very warm weather.

Here's a lot of good information to review, especially if you're headed to one of the most stunning parks on the continent:

Several of Glacier National Park’s high elevation hikes are open to the public, but snow and snow hazards remain in many areas. 

Hikers should be wary of snowfields and steep areas in the higher elevations. Snow bridges may exist, and hard to identify.  A snow bridge may completely cover an opening, such as a creek, and present a danger.  It may create an illusion of unbroken surface while hiding an opening under a layer of snow, creating an unstable surface.  

It is important to know the terrain you are about to hike or climb, and carry the appropriate equipment.  When hiking may include snowfield travel, visitors should know how to travel in such challenging conditions, including knowing how to use crampons and an ice axe.  It is recommended to have layers of clothing available, appropriate footwear, including boots with lug soles, a map, first-aid kit, water and food.  Always communicate to someone your planned route of travel and your expected time of return. 

  • There are over 700 miles of trails in Glacier National Park providing a variety of hiking opportunities.  During July and August many of the more popular trails can be crowded.  Visitors are encouraged to consider a lesser used trail or more remote trail during this time.  See more information about hiking options and trail status.

Caution should be used near rivers and streams, as water may be extremely cold, and running swift and high. Avoid wading or fording in swift moving water, as well as walking, playing and climbing on slippery rocks and logs. 

The Highline Trail is open, but snow remains past Haystack Butte. Strong hiking skills and snow travel skills, as well as the appropriate equipment, are recommended.  

The Ptarmigan Tunnel is open.  Stock access to Iceberg/Ptarmigan Trail is prohibited due to a temporary bridge that allows foot traffic, but it is not suitable for stock. 

The park’s shuttle system is serving hikers on the east side of the park.  It is free, and the shuttle has stops along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Due to road rehabilitation activities on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, parking to access the St. Mary, Virginia and Barring Falls areas is very challenging and the shuttle system may be a convenient alternative.   

Black bears and grizzly bears are common in Glacier Park.  Hikers are encouraged to hike in groups, carry bear spray that is easily accessible, and make noise at regular intervals along the trail.  Bears spend a lot of time eating, so hikers should be extra alert while in or near feeding areas such as berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of glacier lilies.  Hiking early in the morning, late in the day, or after dark is not encouraged.  Trail running is not recommended as it has led to surprise bear encounters. 

See more information about recreating in bear country.   

Finally, Glacier Park’s “Sun” road set to open

NATIONAL PARKS – Postponed by a late storm and flooding, the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is expected to be open to vehicle travel by this weekend, allowing access to Logan Pass.

While most snow removal efforts are being completed and snow above the road is being monitored and removed, road crews continue to sweep debris from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, install removable guard rails and road signage, and prepare the Logan Pass Visitor Center and area for opening. 

The park’s free, optional shuttle system that provides shuttle services along the Going-to-the-Sun Road will continue limited operations to The Loop on the west side, until the entire length of the road opens.

The west-side vehicle closure remains at Avalanche and the east-side closure remains at Jackson Glacier Overlook. Closures will continue at their respective locations until the entire length of the road is open to vehicle travel.

Hiker-biker access on the west side of the park is currently available from Avalanche to Bird Woman Overlook. There is no hiker-biker access on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road due to road rehabilitation work.   

  • Get information on the shuttle system,visit . 
  • Click here for current information on park roads, weather conditions, and visitor services.

Lightning: flashy way to die outdoors

OUTDOOR SAFETY — Name the safest place to seek refuge if you are outdoors and a lighting storm moves in?

  • Answer: An automobile — totally safe, unless a tree blows down on top of you.

This is Lightning Awareness Week, so be aware.  Sure, you can't bail out of the wilderness every time a thunder storm rolls in, but you can minimize risk by checking weather reports and getting very early starts on ventures into the high ridges so you can return to safer areas or your car by the time thunder activity begins, usually in the afternoon.

Check the attached document for some solid background on lighting safety.


Documents:

Mount Rainier plays no favorites when it claims a life

HIKING — Although the official announcement still wasn't released this morning, friends on Sunday mourned a well-known outdoors writer and photographer who had been missing for three days in Mount Rainier National Park before searchers said they recovered a body of a woman.

The National Park Service said it will be up to the Pierce County medical examiner to confirm that the body found Saturday afternoon was that of 70-year-old Karen Sykes of Seattle, but her daughter confirmed the death, according to the Associated Press.

Annette Shirey says her mother had developed a personal connection to the mountain and wanted to share that love with others. 

Sykes' body was discovered in an area where searchers, and they ended the three-day rescue effort after finding it.

Although the cause of Sykes' death has not been determined, early-season hiking poses hazards associated with lingering snow.  An early-season hiker slipped on a snowfield and slid to his death in Glacier National Park last year. 

 Also, hikers can suffer injuries from breaking through snowfields weakened by rocks or moving water below.

“For a lot of local hikers, it’s an extreme loss,” said Greg Johnston, who edited a “Trail of the Week” column she wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “For decades, she showed us the way, and now that’s gone.”

Here's more from the AP:

Sykes was prominent in the Northwest hiking community for her trail reviews and photographs, for her book on hiking western Washington and for leading group outings. Friends said she found sanctuary in the wilderness.

“It was a real healing thing for her,” Johnston said. “Once she found hiking, she never stopped.”

She had been hiking with her boyfriend, Bob Morthorst, on Wednesday in the Owyhigh Lakes area east of Rainier’s 14,410-foot summit when they encountered snow on the trail at about 5,000 feet. He stopped and she went on, friends and park officials said.

When she didn’t return as planned, he made it safely down the trail and reported her missing.

The body found Saturday was off-trail, about halfway down a steep hillside above Boundary Creek, park spokeswoman Patti Wold said. She didn’t know whether it was apparent that the woman had fallen or what caused the death. It remains under investigation.

Among the dangers of hiking on snowfields in the summer are falling through snow bridges caused by melting water beneath the surface and sinking into tree wells, where deep, soft or unsupported snow accumulates around tree trunks. A searcher was hurt Thursday when he punched through a snow bridge and was airlifted out of the area.

“It’s a time to be cautious when you’re in the backcountry on snow, but we don’t know if that was a contributing factor or not,” Wold said.

Michael Fagin, a meteorologist who specializes in mountain weather forecasts, said Sykes invited him on the hike, but he had to work. Often during hikes with Sykes and her boyfriend, she’d continue walking around and taking pictures when Fagin and Morthorst stopped to eat or rest.

“Bob and I would stop and eat lunch, and she’d be crawling in the dirt taking pictures of flowers,” Fagin said. “She couldn’t sit still.”

Fagin said he would typically take the lead on their walks; Sykes, who was also a distance runner, would get too far ahead if she led.

Much of Sykes’ recent work had been for the website of Visit Rainier, an organization that uses local lodging taxes to promote tourism at the mountain. She often tried to write about lesser-used trails, Fagin said.

“After lunch on the ridge we continued, climbing from one high point to the next facing the mountain,” she wrote in a piece about snowshoeing on Mazama Ridge. “As much as we love the forest there is something that stirs the restless soul to go further, to go higher.

“One has to be careful to establish and stick to a turnaround time. The siren will tempt you with another high point along the ridge, then another, then another.” 

Unmanned aircraft banned from national parks

PUBLIC LANDS — National Park Service lands across the United States, including the agency's national recreation areas such as Lake Roosevelt, are being ordered to prohibit launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft on lands and waters, according to a policy memorandum to park superintendents signed today by National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care,” Jarvis said. “However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.

Unmanned aircraft have already been prohibited at several national parks. These parks initiated bans after noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, an incident in which park wildlife were harassed, and park visitor safety concerns. For example:

Last September, an unmanned aircraft flew above evening visitors seated in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Amphitheater. Park rangers concerned for visitors’ safety confiscated the unmanned aircraft. 

In April, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park gathered for a quiet sunset, which was interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Later in the month, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.

  • The video below shows one of many ways drones and cameras have been used in national parks.

The policy memorandum directs park superintendents to take a number of steps to exclude unmanned aircraft from national parks. The steps include drafting a written justification for the action, ensuring compliance with applicable laws, and providing public notice of the action.

The memorandum does not affect the primary jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration over the National Airspace System.

The policy memorandum is a temporary measure. Jarvis said the next step will be to propose a Servicewide regulation regarding unmanned aircraft. That process can take considerable time, depending on the complexity of the rule, and includes public notice of the proposed regulation and opportunity for public comment.

The policy memo directs superintendents to use their existing authority within the Code of Federal Regulations to prohibit the use of unmanned aircraft, and to include that prohibition in the park’s compendium, a set of park-specific regulations.

All permits previously issued for unmanned aircraft will be suspended until reviewed and approved by the associate director of the National Park Service’s Visitor and Resource Protection directorate. The associate director must approve any new special use permits authorizing the use of unmanned aircraft. Superintendents who have previously authorized the use of model aircraft for hobbyist or recreational use may allow such use to continue. 

The National Park Service may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study. These uses must also be approved by the associate director for Visitor and Resource Protection.

Father sets bar high as hiking/parenting role model

HIKING — What's  your excuse for not getting your son or daughter out on the trail lately?

James Geier, a retired law enforcement officer, celebrated Fathers Day by hiking with his 18-year-old son, Jonah, in Arches National Park. Even though Jonah is not able to hike, his dad gave him a tow on trailer so he could enjoy the experience of traveling three miles into the Utah backcountry, climbing 480 feet over slickrock trails and up red rock steps to share with his dad a worldwide symbol of strength and endurance.

"Perseverance," his daughter Laura wrote of the outing. "Shared by both the Arch in withstanding time and change, and the resolve of a father to hike his disabled son to the Arch to experience the incredible symbol of natural beauty and strength."

 

Lingering snow delays Glacier Park opportunities

PUBLIC LANDS — Be patient if you're making plans to visit Glacier National Park, especially if you want to venture into the high country.

Snow conditions, cool weather, and debris from snow slides are challenging some spring opening operations for trails, facilities and roads in Glacier National Park.  Snow accumulations in the park are above average this year and spring snowmelt has varied at different locations. 

A weather system is predicted to impact the area beginning tonight through the next couple of days, including cooler temperatures and heavy precipitation.  At this time, a winter storm warning has been issued in and around Glacier National Park for elevations above 6,500 feet with predictions of snow accumulations of one to two feet.   The elevation at Logan Pass is 6,646 feet. 

Numerous trails in Glacier National Park are still snow-covered. Park staff report damage to trails and backcountry campsites due to snow slides and large amounts of avalanche debris.

  • The Ptarmigan Falls Bridge and Twin Falls Bridge have been removed due to winter damage and hazardous conditions. Temporary bridges are expected to be installed by early July.
  • The Iceberg Lake Trail is closed to stock use until permanent repairs to the Ptarmigan Falls B ridge are complete.  Permanent repair work on both bridges is anticipated to begin this fall.
  • Trout Lake Trail has been impacted by extensive avalanche debris.  Hikers are not encouraged to use this trail, or it is recommended that hikers have route-finding skills to traverse the debris. 

Trails may traverse steep and sometimes icy snowfields and park rangers are advising hikers to have the appropriate equipment and skills to navigate such areas, or perhaps visit those areas once conditions improve. 

The park posts current trail status reports.

Even some lowland facilities have been affected by the late season. Frozen and damaged sewer and water lines caused some delays in seasonal opening activities for utilities park-wide.

  • Rising Sun and the Swiftcurrent cabin areas experienced damaged water lines.
  • The Apgar and Lake McDonald areas experienced issues with frozen sewer lines, and some broken water lines.
  • The Cutbank, Many Glacier and Two Medicine Campgrounds experienced delayed openings due to abundant snow accumulation and slow snow melt.   

The Going to the Sun Road is still being cleared by snow removal crews. A snow slide in the Alps area of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, about five miles west of Logan Pass, wiped out about 20-30 feet of rock wall along the road.  Several new slide paths across the road have been encountered this spring, including the need for extensive snow and debris cleanup.    

Snow removal operations on the Going-to-the-Sun Road continue with road crews working near the Big Drift and Lunch Creek areas east of Logan Pass. Above average snow accumulation and cool June temperatures have provided challenges for snow removal operations. The snow depth at the Big Drift is estimated to be about 80 feet, larger than recent years.  Once the snow is removed, a thick layer of ice on the road is anticipated. 

Park road crew employees have begun working overtime in an effort to accomplish snow removal goals.

Snow removal and plowing progress, including images, are posted online.

  • Currently, visitors can drive about 16 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche on the west side of the park, and one mile from the St. Mary Entrance to the foot of St. Mary Lake on the east side. It is anticipated that there will be vehicle access to the Jackson Glacier Overlook area on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road by this weekend, but it is dependent on weather conditions.  Vehicle access to Logan Pass, and beyond Avalanche on the west side of park, is unknown at this time. 

Hiker-biker access is currently available from Avalanche to the Loop on the west side, and from St. Mary to Rising Sun on the east side. See current hiker-biker access and park road status reports.  

Plan ahead for free entry at federal, state lands

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal land managers offer free entry to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.  

  • Washington State Parks also sets dates for fee-free entry. 

The first freebie date of the year is National Get Outdoors Day.

Following is a list of other free-entry dates and participating federal agencies, which vary by holiday: 

  • Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 15-17 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Park Week opening weekend, April 19-20 — National Park Service.
  • National Get Outdoors Day, June 14 — national forests.
  • National Park Service Birthday, Aug. 25 — National Park Service.
  • National Public Lands Day, Sept. 27 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests. 
  • National Wildlife Refuge Week, first day, Oct 12 — National wildlife refuges. 
  • Veterans Day, Nov. 11 — National Park Service, National wildlife refuges, national forests.

Washington State Parks also offer 11 days in which the Discover Pass is not needed for entry in 2014:

  • Jan. 19 and 20 – Martin Luther King holiday.
  • March 19 – Washington State Parks birthday.
  • April 19 – Spring Saturday Free Day.
  • April 22 – Earth Day.
  • May 11 – Spring Sunday Free Day.
  • June 7 and 8 – National Trails Day and WDFW Free Fishing Weekend.
  • June 14 – National Get Outdoors Day.
  • Aug. 25 – In honor of National Park Service’s birthday.
  • Sept. 27 –National Public Lands Day.
  • Nov. 11 – Veterans Day holiday.

Read on for details about year-round free or discounted passes for military, disabled and seniors.

Mount Rainier welcomes Washingtonians home

TRAVEL — Normally I'm thrilled and filled with hope for adventures to come when I return from a far away place and fly past Mount Rainier, the state's great "Welcome to Washington" ambassador.

This time: bittersweet.

Seattle treasure hunters fouling Yellowstone Park

PUBLIC LANDS — For God's sake, get a clue.

Yellowstone Park rangers rescue, cite treasure hunters twice
On April 27 and again on May 9, rangers from Yellowstone National Park had to rescue treasure hunters from Washington state who were ill-equipped for their treks into the park's back country seeking the $1-million "Forrest Fenn Treasure," which a poem in the Santa Fe, N.M. art dealer's 2010 memoir allegedly contains nine clues to the hidden treasure.
—Jackson Hole News & Guide

Cayuse Pass, Mount Rainier ready for travelers

PARKS — Cayuse Pass, the scenic route to Mount Rainier, is open and ready for traffic.  And the park is ready, too, as the Paradise area opened on Wednesday.

If you've never driven Highway 410 over Cayuse Pass you're in for a treat: Mount Rainier looks like it's going to smack you on the lips.

Click here for updates on current conditions at Mount Rainier National Park or go to the Visit Rainier tourist information site.

North Cascades Highway to open Thursday

NATIONAL PARKS — The party's almost over for bicyclists who've had long stretches of the North Cascades Highway all to themselves as road crews have been clearing snow from State Route 20 west of Winthrop.

The Washington Department of Transportation plans to reopen the North Cascades Highway to traffic at noon on Thursday.

That’s just in time for Winthrop’s ’49er Days, an annual celebration that includes a parade and rendezvous of packers who guide visitors using horses and mules, said Jeff Adamson, spokesman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The stretch of Highway 20 from Mazama to Newhalem closes every winter due to avalanche danger. This winter, it closed for the season on Dec. 3. It generally reopens sometime in April or May, although it has opened a few years in March, and once as late as June 14.

Adamson said even if weather conditions veer from the forecast and avalanche conditions arise, only the Liberty Bell avalanche chutes still pose any danger. A helicopter crew used explosives last week to send most of the snow down 10 slides, he said.

Crews still have about 3.5 miles of highway to plow and are fixing guardrails and widening the shoulders, he said.

Snow at the summit of Washington Pass measured almost 10 feet. Snow at the Liberty Bell avalanche chute averaged 35 feet deep.

Avalanches delay Glacier Park plowing progress

PUBLIC LANDS — Although hikers and walkers can advance farther beyond gates, snow-plowing crews have been able to open only 12.5 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. The process of opening the famous road over Logan Pass is being slowed by numerous avalanches.

 Visitors can drive 11.5 miles from the West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge, and 1.0 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Foot of St. Mary Lake.

From McDonald Lodge, hikers and bikers can access another 10 miles of road, depending on where the plow crews are working. On weekends there are no restrictions for hikers and bikers. Plow crews are currently working 10-hour shifts Tuesday through Friday. There is currently no vehicle or hiker and biker access on the east side.  

See daily updates and photos at the Glacier Park Website.

Plow crews on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road are slowly clawing their way to Logan Pass in their annual effort to open Northwest Montana’s most notable summer attraction. As of Monday, the west side plow crew had advanced to Russ’ Slide, just past The Loop, about six miles short of Logan Pass. Meanwhile, on the east side, plow crews were wrapping up their work in the Two Medicine Valley and expected to start plowing the Sun Road east from St. Mary this week.

Park spokesperson Denise Germann said while snow depths have been below the record setting amounts in 2011, plow crews are contending with another danger: avalanches. There are more than 70 avalanche chutes along the Sun Road.

“They’re seeing a lot of snow and a lot of slides this year,” Germann said. “But we’ve seen a lot of avalanche activity all across western Montana this year.”
                                                

Yellowstone Park roads opening to vehicles

PARKS – Snowplows at Yellowstone National Park opened the main road into Old Faithful over the weekend, marking the beginning of the spring tourist season.

The East Entrance is scheduled to open May 2 and the South Entrance May 9. 

Study: mercury contamination affects even fish in national parks

FISHING — National parks in the Western United States and Alaska are some of the most pristine landscapes and waters on the planet, yet results of a four year study indicate that mercury contamination affects fish even in these protected areas.

It's important to note that 96 percent of the affected fish had low levels of contamination and are considered safe for human consumption.

However, the National Park Service says:

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in 21 protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

Read on for more details from the NPS.