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July 2018

Wilderness Skills Institute

The end of May each year brings the Wilderness Skills Institute (WSI) at the Cradle of Forestry in the Pisgah National Forest, NC. It is produced and sponsored by the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the Forest Service. There are two 1 week sessions covering wilderness skills and issues.

The Wilderness Skills Institute is a great place for us to learn about traditional skills and network with people from other clubs. I encourage club members to look into the program next year for an upgrade of trail skills.

One thing that resonates with me are the number of young people who attend WSI. There are seasonal employees of SAWS and a few from ATC, who are dedicated to the preservation of our wild lands. It is thrilling to see these kids eagerly learning skills and building a dedication to our wild lands.

This year I took a five day course on Griphoist and Rigging taught by two very experienced members from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). This is based on the same type of rigging and lifting used in heavy industries stressing math and safety. All the components such as slings, shackles and mechanical advantage were explained and reviewed. During a couple of days in the field we setup the Griphoist and rigging to move a very large rock, perhaps 600 pounds. The key point in dragging rocks is to use chain, otherwise a sling could get abraded and rapidly lose its integrity.

Lifting a big rock or log and moving it up or down the trail with relative ease has fascinated me. We set up a “highwire”, 15 feet high, between trees over one hundred feet apart, with support from anchor trees. Then a 400 pound rock was hoisted five feet in the air was transported up and down the line almost effortlessly.

At WSI Robert Collins earned his “C” Crosscut Sawyer certificate which makes him an instructor. I am working to get our club in a position to “self-certify” as much as possible, and this could get us closer. I am trying to get my head around the sawyer certification program.

I plan to meet with Robert, Mike Cordisco, Bruce Kreitman and Info & Ed Director Bill Bryant to work out a program where we can certify chain and crosscut sawyers. I also hope to use Robert as a Wilderness First Responder, to reinforce our first aid training.

FERC Review of the 1999 Natural Gas Policy Statement
Suzanne Dixon, CEO/President of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) composed a letter to the commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and requested the presidents of the 31 trail club to sign as supporters. This has to do with the certification of new natural gas transportation facilities and the Commission’s decision to revisit the 1999 Natural Gas Policy Statement.

ATC has worked with pipeline companies and commented on several proposals, formally opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) due to poor planning and inadequate environmental review processes. Among ATC recommendations to FERC are:

  • Reform the review process to ensure that public interest is protected as well as the interests of energy and non-energy related industries that support local economies.
  • Review all necessary and relevant factors to determine public need for a pipeline.
  • Adopt a regionally-focused review of pipeline development.
  • Improve the FERC process for rehearing requests.

The outdoor industry is big and has a strong reach and influence as people increase their recreation on public lands. At the same time our reliance on energy in also increasing and because the Appalachian Trail covers most of the east coast it is inevitable there will be pipeline crossings.

One area of concern is how FERC relies on precedent agreements – contracts between pipeline developers and prospective shippers - to determine need. This is not necessarily a good measure for considering market need and environmental impacts

FERC must end its practice of failing to affirmatively grant or deny rehearing requests, but instead issue responses that provide FERC more time for consideration. Although the federal Natural Gas Act requires the agency to issue a decision on appeals within 30 days, FERC can extend the deadline indefinitely by issuing a tolling order. Tolling orders are officially an order granting rehearing for further consideration. In some recent cases, FERC issued its decision after the pipes were already in the ground with the gas flowing. The current process grants the pipeline company the power of eminent domain and approval for construction while valid lawsuits are being considered by the courts. There should be a limit on how much time FERC takes to resolve pipeline cases.

Congress Begins Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Process (5/23/2018)
The House of Representatives Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has “marked up” the bill to fund the Interior Department agencies, U.S. Forest Service, and several other “related agencies” for Fiscal Year 2019. Most of the details of the funding being proposed are not yet available, but several have been released. These include appropriating $360 million from the Land & Water Conservation Fund for land acquisition by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. The specific projects this money would fund have not been disclosed. The amount proposed is $65 million less than Congress appropriated at the end of March for Fiscal Year 2018, but it is the largest amount proposed by the House for Land & Water Conservation Fund land acquisitions in years.

The House Interior Appropriations bill also proposes to increase by $50 million the funding for the National Park Service to operate the National Park System (including the National Trails System). The bill must be approved by the full Appropriations Committee and voted on by the House before this first half of the annual appropriations process is completed.

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act to be voted on November 2018
Governor Nathan Deal signed the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (HB 332) into law in a ceremony at the State Capitol on Monday, May 7. As a result, voters will have the opportunity on the November General Election ballot to dedicate a portion of the existing sales tax on outdoor recreation equipment to the conservation of waters, lands and wildlife.

This Amendment would authorize the state to dedicate up to 80 percent of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor sporting goods to be used for land conservation. The funds would be used to support state parks and trails, provide stewardship of conservation lands, and acquire land for the provision or protection of clean water, wildlife, hunting, fishing, military installation buffering, or outdoor recreation.

These measures passed both houses in Georgia, with 55 voting yes and one not voting in the Senate and in the House 168 voted yes, 1 no and 11 not voting. This could yield up to $20 million a year and will sunset in ten years if not extended.

Rockets over Cumberland Island
Camden County Georgia is promoting a commercial rocket launching facility called Spaceport to be built near the northern end of Cumberland Island. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), paid for by Camden County, suggests any adverse impacts are “short term and temporary” and therefore not “significant” enough to derail the project.

However, the DEIS does not address potential impacts in the case of an explosion, or launch failure, among other apparent missteps, leading many environmentalists and concerned citizens to question the validity of not only the environmental review, but the entire project. The site is too close to water areas that would be polluted if/when there is an explosion or other problem.

One problem would be that people are supposed to be clear downrange of the launch. This would include many local residents and visitors to Cumberland Island. Camden County is seeking to skirt the FAA law by deeming all residents, hikers, and campers within the hazard zone as “authorized persons”.

Camden County’s spaceport would have huge negative impacts on the Wilderness as well as the seashore, wildlife, and the area’s many visitors. The launches would shatter the area’s natural sounds, stress native wildlife including threatened and endangered species, create major safety concerns from rocket fuel and ignited debris falling from exploding rockets, and could force the Park Service to close and evacuate the Wilderness and National Seashore multiple times per year. (The preferred alternative allows closures of up to 12 hours per each of the 12 launch days per year, plus up to three hours for each of the 36 tests allowed per year.)

Clearly, the intrusion, noise, trash, and other impacts pose a major threat to the wilderness character of the Cumberland Island Wilderness and surrounding area. The FAA needs to reject Camden County’s ill-advised rocket launch site near Cumberland.

Please feel free to contact me for further information about any of these initiatives and how you can be more involved.