In honor of the late Doug Walker, former president of the American Alpine Club, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced Friday that she will immediately decrease barriers to public lands access for groups of under-privileged youth.
Effective immediately, directors of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation will instruct local land managers to expedite their permit processes for groups of underprivileged youth.
Walker was killed in an avalanche when he became separated from a group of friends snowshoeing on Granite Mountain near Snoqualmie Pass, Wash., Dec. 31.
His death “highlights the need for additional efforts to reduce barriers to accessing public lands,” Jewell wrote in an order signed Wednesday. “One of Douglas W. Walker’s passions involved supporting inner-city youth in multi-day outdoor excursions in backcountry and wilderness areas.”
Historically, non-profit organizations have had to allocate significant time and resources to applying for permits, said Bryan Martin, executive director of Big City Mountaineers, which is based in Golden, Colo. On top of that, they’ve had to compete with well-funded commercial outfitters for dates that work for their programs.
“Permits for our trips have been hard to come by, and so this is just really, really welcome news. I’m looking forward to finding trip opportunities for kids that are a little bit closer to home and that we can obtain more efficiently,” said Martin, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with the Department of the Interior about the constant struggle.
“I hope that this means that organizations like BCM and other partners who are engaging underserved youth in the outdoors will be put to the top of the list when it comes to the permit day that we’re requesting.”
Non-profits may have to allocate significant resources to obtaining commercial use authorizations, Jewell wrote, “often based on a determination they are conducting a business due to the use of paid guides or charging fees.”
Under Jewell’s order, such fees should be decreased or waived in order to get groups into parks faster. So long as the organizations conducting the trips are charging fees only to cover direct costs, and not to make a profit, they should not be forced to obtain commercial use authorizations.
Eligible groups include programs in which all participants are under the age of 26 and at least 70 percent of participants are economically disadvantaged and meet at least one of the following criteria:
-In or aging out of foster care
-Limited English proficiency
-Homeless or have run away from home
-At risk of dropping out of high school
-Former juvenile offender or at risk of delinquency
-Youth with disabilities
Trips covered under Jewell’s order include overnight and multi-night recreational and educational trips for which fees collected are used only for the trip’s direct cost.
The wording of Jewell’s order could be open to interpretation to local land managers, and Martin said he is eager to learn more concrete details from the federal government.
The assistant secretaries of Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Land Minerals Management and Water and Science must submit implementation plans to Jewell within two months, including concrete actions the NPS, FWS, BLM and BOR will take to ensure greater access for eligible groups.
“We should do everything we can to introduce newcomers to public lands that belong to all Americans,” Jewell said in a press release about the order. “By streamlining the permitting process, we can knock down barriers that stand in the way of welcoming young people to enjoy, explore and experience nature.”