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August 2019

As I write this I am cruising the Adriatic Sea visiting ports in Croatia and am now making our way back to Venice for a couple of days before returning home.  As a kid in the sixties the Iron Curtin help a certain fascination for me.  A few years ago a group of us hiked the Peaks of the Balkans in Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo and I was very interested to see the effect of communism so many years later after it fell. 

What I have seen in Croatia definitely supports the argument that “capitalism isn’t all that bad”.  With so much tourism these ports have a sense of vitality.  Even when we ventured inland the atmosphere seemed good.

Our National Park infrastructure is failing.

For so long now our National Parks have endured the problem of “deferred maintenance”. This means not been enough money has been budgeted to address the disrepair of the park’s infrastructure.  This backlog gets bigger and bigger each year.  With the recent inventory conducted by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, $20 million has been identified in needed maintenance for shelters, bridges structures etc. along the A.T.

The deferred maintenance for our public land reaches over $20 billion.  Even with 31 trail maintaining clubs and over 6,000 volunteers working hard, not everything is being addressed. It seems a daunting task to avoid sinking altogether.

Fortunately (hopefully) the Senate and the House of Representatives are both currently weighing two related bills designed to greatly increase the funding for deferred maintenance in National Parks.

The Senate bill (S. 500), also known as the “Restore Our Parks Act” or “ROPA,” and the House bill (H.R. 1225), also known as the “Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act,” both allocate $6.5 billion.  Each bill is a little different, primarily funds would be used for the National Park Service and a couple of other agencies, although not the forest service.

Neither of these bills would divert funding from programs such as the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), creating a separate fund specifically focused on deferred maintenance needs.

It is important that our Senators and Representatives hear from us to support these bills.  Let them know you are standing up for the Appalachian Trail and all of the other public lands that help millions each year experience America’s Great Outdoors.

Gun Range

The Union Country Gun Range proposal has passed the Environmental Assessment (EA).  A “preliminary” decision will come in the next month or two.  This shows my lack of understanding about how the federal government works.  It seems they post an issue for public input, then ruminate on it for a while, then do something else and allow additional public input and cogitate of that.  Then put out a decision to test the waters and get more input.

PATHE

At a recent PATHE meeting the four subcommittees presented updates.  The campsite committee now called the Engineering Committee is looking at how we can manage sustainable campsites, especially in Wilderness Areas.  The challenge is to flatten the spring “bubble” to avoid the proliferation that occurs with peak usage.  I suspect this could be slightly minimized and we can continue to look forward to similar spring usage as we typically experience.  The good news is this year we did not see the volume of hikers increase.

There are two techniques we can use, side-hill tent pads and existing “compliant” sites.  Side-hill tent sites make spreading virtually impossible, and if located in strategic locations they should handle the usage in a sustainable manner.  We can also continue to use existing areas as long as they can be contained.  Since they are already impacted, continued use will not cause additional harm.  Within several large camping areas, typically by shelters, camping has been cordoned off and visitors are complying.

The Food Storage Committee is pressing forward towards a forest wide food storage order.  This will require all food to be stored in a Bear Resistant Container in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  I expect on the next year we should see forest orders from Amicalola Falls State Park well into Virginia along the Appalachian Trail.

The Public Relations and Education Committees is developing materials to advise visitors of the requirement and how to effectively store food and bear can usage.  I am excited about this rule because it should make things safer not only for campers but for animals.  I would like to think that this rule will help visitors better understand principles of ethical behavior in the backcountry.

Save the date for the third Trail Skills Workshop, October 26 – 27, 2019 at Lake Winfield Scott.  This is a great opportunity to expand your trail maintaining skills with up to date methods.  Two day courses will be offered in trail maintenance, drainage dips, rock work, and campsites.  Camping will be available at Lake Winfield Scott and a cookout dinner will be provided Saturday night.  There is no charge for this event.  Stay tuned for more details.

BWCA

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a special place to me because of its vast natural areas and I continue to be concerned.  Polymet's proposed open-pit copper-nickel mine not far from the storied 1.1 million-acre BWCAW continues to move ahead. In November 2018, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted the project several key permits, In March 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the last major permit the mine needs. There are numerous lawsuits challenging most of the state permits, so the mine is not a done deal despite being granted this last major permit.

What bugs me about this (and the Union County Gun Range proposal) is that it appears to be something bought and paid for by outside interests.  In the case of the BWCA, it is alleged that a Chilean billionaire gets the mining rights from Trump in exchange for Ivanka and Jarrod living rent free in his $5.5 million house in D.C.

Izembek

On January 22, 2018, then Interior Secretary Zinke signed the secret land exchange agreement to facilitate the building of an 11-mile-long road through the Izembek Wilderness. Nine days later, Wilderness Watch and several co-plaintiff organizations filed suit to stop the road.

Recently, a federal judge ruled against former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's closed-door agreement for a land exchange of federal public lands to allow the State of Alaska to punch a road through this spectacular Wilderness.

The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is 95 percent Wilderness, contains critically important wildlife habitat, and is a major crossroad for international bird migration. A road slicing through this wild masterpiece would be an unspeakable travesty.

Isle Royale

Annual survival of wild wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is approximately 75% After translocation of 11 wolves last winter it was a disappointment to learn in late March, the NPS discovered a translocated wolf’s GPS collar transmitting a mortality mode signal.  A few weeks earlier this male was traveling with one of the females translocated from Minnesota in October 2018.  
 
The island’s wolf population now totals 14 wolves, 12 successfully translocated from Minnesota and Canada plus the two wolves that remained on Isle Royale before the initiation of wolf reintroduction efforts.  The new wolves are beginning to form loose associations with one another as seen by overlapping GPS coordinates at the same time and place

Mountain Valley Pipeline

The MVP project team continues to target a fourth quarter 2019 in-service date, at a $4.6 billion total projected construction cost. For several months, the team has been pursuing options and alternatives that would address the outstanding permit issues, which, if realized within the next few months, would allow for a Q4 completion and in-service date.

While I have been thousands of miles from home, it seems I am never too far from the Appalachian Trail.  I look forward to seeing you on the trail on an upcoming work day.