Today in New West news: craft beer in the Treasure Valley, federal land bills before Senate subcommittee (including one about Owyhee wildernesses), and medical marijuana in Utah.
Craft beer has been a booming industry since at least the 1980s, when a spate of companies still running strong (either independently or after consolidating with larger breweries/distributors) started popping up around the nation. But it seems not even veteran breweries could predict just how big it would get, especially out West.
Indeed, according to the Idaho Statesman, one of the Treasure Valley’s earliest breweries, Sockeye (which started in 1996 as a brewpub brewing enough beer for in-house demand), has seen their company grow from that one location into a multiple location, multi-state brand. Currently, Sockeye distributes throughout Idaho, Utah, and eastern Oregon, with plans for Montana and Wyoming. Further, Sockeye stands as one of 19 Treasure Valley microbreweries currently operating.
And that’s not all. We previously reported that Vista, California-based Mother Earth Brew Co. was opening a facility in the Treasure Valley, which is slated to compete with Garden City’s Payette Brewing, the state’s largest beer producer. Two new breweries (Mad Swede Brewing and Lost Grove Brewing) are slated to open in Boise this summer. The former started as a homebrewing initiative by owner and “Mad Swede” Jerry Larson in 1979—only later becoming a business after one of his recipes was picked up at 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, Oregon.
However, the Statesman notes, several breweries (Garden City’s Kilted Dragon Brewing and Boise’s TableRock Brewpub) shuttered in 2014, with another (Haff Brewing) sold last December and converted into Bella Brewing.
With all the developments and plans underway, the central question is this: can the Treasure Valley support that many companies? And does the future of Treasure Valley craft beer signal changes in the Western craft brewing industry as a whole? From the Statesman:
The increased competition means drinkers no longer support a new beer just because it is made locally, [Sockeye Marketing Director Mark] Breske said.
“It used to be that restaurants and bars were putting beers on tap just because they were local,” Breske said. “But now, with the influx of breweries, the emphasis is on having a quality product.”
That means new breweries must match good beer with smart business decisions, including securing strong financial backing and investing in expensive bottling or canning equipment only when they are ready for the increased capacity.
“They have to have their ducks in a row a little more,” Breske said.
Larson said Mad Swede will focus on quality and its small tasting room before making any jumps in production or spending heavily on equipment.
“It will be interesting to watch Sockeye and Payette in terms of getting big,” Larson said. “I’m rather narrowly focused on the short-term, trying to get my production and quality where I want it to be before I try to get out there.”
The three owners agreed the growing number of breweries in the Valley isn’t all bad. Increased competition should encourage brewers to go a little crazy, brewing less traditional styles, such as sours, or providing new flavors to traditional brews in efforts to carve out niches.
“There’s a rising tide thing,” Larson said. “As there are more breweries, there’s more awareness about beer. That tends to enhance the experience for all brewers as [beer drinkers] try out breweries, to see what’s new.”
Meanwhile, over in Washington D.C., the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining is currently debating a set of nine federal lands bills. According to Wyofile, three of the bills seek to designate thousands of acres of new wilderness as well as hundreds of miles of new river segments. In addition, some language posits that thousands of acres could be transitioned to “potential wilderness.” All in all, the language doesn’t sit well with subcommittee chair Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who called for Congress to take “a more balanced approach.”
Most of the bills center on California, Oregon, and Washington state. However, two bills have bearing on Idaho and Utah, respectively. From Wyofile:
S.1167, from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), looks to modify the boundaries of the Pole Creek, Owyhee River and North Fork Owyhee wilderness areas.
The “Owyhee Wilderness Areas Boundary Modifications Act” includes a provision to authorize the use of motorized vehicles in six wilderness areas for the use of livestock monitoring, herding and gathering.
When wilderness acres in Owyhee County were designated under BLM management in 2009, farmers and ranchers were allowed to occasionally use motorized vehicles to maintain their grazing facilities and herd livestock.
Three years after the designation, BLM revised its management policies, specifically prohibiting the use of motorized vehicles across the land. This pertained to individuals herding livestock and inspecting range developments, regardless of whether or not the activity had been occurring prior to the area’s designation.
The provision was included in the latest bill to solve a “government-made problem,” said Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho).
Mike Pool, acting deputy director for BLM, said the agency “strongly opposes” the management changes, especially with regard to the use of motorized vehicles in the wilderness area.
He said the language “undermines the longstanding definition and spirit of wilderness” laid out in the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Risch’s S. 1777 would amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to invest in facilities built for commercial recreation at Smith Gulch.
The Forest Services said it opposes the bill because it would create a “negative precedent for other commercial recreation service providers on wild and scenic rivers across the nation.”
Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s S. 2383 would direct the Department of the Interior and the Air Force to enter into a memorandum of agreement to continue management of more than 625,600 acres belonging to BLM.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan said the measure would allow the deployment of large weapons for weapons purposes.
“The Air Force believes the bill’s concept of short, periodic closures is the best way to serve the public’s interest while addressing both the Air Force’s emerging operational requirements and the Department of Interior’s stewardship of these lands,” Whelan said.
The increasing size of weapons safety testing makes the expansion of land boundaries necessary, he said.
Pool said BLM agrees with certain portions of the bill, although it opposes several provisions that could prevent management of the lands.
It’s worth noting that the BLM recently reached an agreement with Missoula-based Wilderness Watch and the Western Watersheds Project over motorized vehicle travel, commercial hunting, and hunting blinds in the Owyhee wildernesses. Indeed, it’s clear that Senator Risch’s “government-made problem” reflects this settlement.
Finally, over in Utah, according to Utah Business, two bills centered around medical marijuana were recently debated before the Utah Legislature, something reportedly unthinkable, especially in the immediate aftermath of Colorado’s legalization of cannabis. Nonetheless, the pair of bills seem to suggest two paths to medical marijuana in Utah, which are similar but not identical. From Utah Business:
Neither bill passed this year, an outcome perhaps caused by the division of support rather than the lack of interest, says Rep. Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville), the House co-sponsor for SB 73.
“Basically, we saw this year took two different paths,” Froerer says. “Unfortunately, they didn’t talk to each other. I think that was one of the reasons that neither one of them passed, is there wasn’t a clear direction.”
The first, SB 73, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would have legalized cannabis, including marijuana, to qualified patients with conditions including HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and some cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome and chronic pain, as prescribed by a doctor. Attempts to contact Madsen for comment on the bill, dubbed the Medical Cannabis Act, were unsuccessful.
The second bill was SB 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City). SB 89 would have also granted persons with certain ailments the use of cannabis-based medicine. The bill had a more restrictive definition of what forms of cannabis would be allowed, as well as the ratio between the THC (the chemical in cannabis chiefly responsible for marijuana’s psychotropic effects) and CBD (another chemical that also stimulates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, but has a more mellow effect). The initial version of SB 89 would have allowed therapies including up to 5 percent THC—a 10-to-one CBD to THC ratio—but the sixth draft, which had some of the language from the then-failed SB 73 inserted into it, supported a one-to-one ratio between THC and CBD.
Vickers says the string of revisions, particularly the sixth and last one, gave the bill too little time for fair discussion in the House and Senate. The time was too short to get the fiscal note down to zero, as well, he says.
“They were starting to warm up and I think we had good support on SB 89, and then when some of the aspects of 73 got merged into 89, that’s when there started to be confusion and they started to backpedal,” Vickers says. “There wasn’t enough time for a two-hour debate [on the last day of the session]. There was lots of other business that needed to be done. I don’t blame them.”
Both Froerer and Vickers said, in effect, they believe the issue won’t be taken seriously until there’s one bill to argue. More than one bill generally leads to stalemate.