After the dog days of August, September’s activities have been fast and furious in the Nation’s Capital. The Pope’s visit dominated the news, but other things have been happening as well and here is a recap for you.
Photo credit: Bob Wick, BLM, April 21,2015, BLM’s Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Flickr photostream.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made a decision that the infamous sage grouse should not be placed on the Endangered Species list much to the delight of many westerners, especially those who worked hard to preserve critically important habitat. There has been some grousing on the part of the environmental community that the agency fell short in protecting the bird and at the opposing end some western states have claimed that the management plans announced by the U. S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management were almost as restrictive as if the bird had been placed on the list. Lawyers representing both views will soon be filing lawsuits challenging the FWS as well as the Forest Service and BLM.
Our hope is that the big bird will be able to thrive and live happily ever after and that we will never have to write about the subject again. Our fear is that the lawsuits will ensure our last wish will not come true.
California Desert Legislation
Last month we reported that Senator Feinstein (D-CA) wrote to President Obama seeking National Monument designations for certain areas contained in her legislation called the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015, S.414. We are very alarmed by the ramifications of such a designation on the part of the President.
On October 8th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Feinstein bill. We hope this means that the legislation will begin to move forward thus negating the need for a Presidential designation under the Antiquities Act. The Feinstein legislation has many components including the designation of five specific OHV recreation areas in San Bernardino County. We think these OHV designations are critically important to the OHV community.
The other encouraging news is that Rep. Paul Cook (R-18, CA) has just introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives. Rep. Cook’s legislation differs somewhat from the Feinstein legislation but there are many similarities including the designation of the OHV recreation areas. We are supporting the Cook legislation as we have the Feinstein bill. We will be tracking both very carefully in the coming weeks.
We can all breathe just a little easier, especially the civil servants, now that the federal government has been funded through December 11, 2015. A continuing resolution passed by both chambers did the trick. The fear of a government shutdown has been put to rest, at least until the middle of December, though we are confident a longer term fix will be found by that time. The fix might be just funding the government at last year’s level, but we seriously doubt we will be worrying about a government shutdown.
As we predicted, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was not reauthorized by the September 30th deadline. This means that monies currently in the fund can continue to be spent, but royalties flowing from off shore oil and gas production will end until such time as the authorization is renewed.
There is a general consensus in both the House and the Senate that the fund should be renewed, but some proponents in the House feel that the 50-year program is in need of an overhaul. We agree.
We have felt for some time that some portion of the LWCF monies should be devoted to chipping away at the land agencies’ maintenance backlog rather than just buying more and more property to put under federal control. As this accompanying chart indicates, the maintenance backlog is huge. We think the time is right to begin doing something about it. The fight over the future direction of the LWCF program is that time.
The clock is ticking with an October 29th deadline. The stumbling block is how to pay for a multi-year reauthorization measure. The Senate passed a 6-year reauthorization but only funded the first three years. The House is now grappling with how to find the needed money to fund a multi-year bill. Our best guess is that another short term extension will be needed, but the issue will be resolved. Both House and Senate members are clearly motivated to solve this issue before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, we remain optimistic that the Recreational Trails Program will survive the process, but we are keeping a very close eye on things.
Speaker Boehner Steps Down
Washington was thunderstruck by the news that John Boehner, Speaker of the House, intended to step aside and resign his House seat at the end of October. Rumors had been circulating for some time that certain factions among House Republicans were unhappy with his leadership style, but few thought he would step aside before the end of 2016.
Intraparty politics is seldom mentioned in this newsletter, but the Speaker’s resignation and the party leadership elections that will follow will have an impact on the legislative agenda for the rest of this year and next. Funding the federal government and even the transportation reauthorization measure could all be affected. It is impossible to know until all the dust settles. The impact could be positive or negative, we just don’t know. We hope to know more when we prepare next month’s newsletter.
Yogi Berra, the famed New York Yankees catcher died on September 22nd at the age of 90. In addition to his storied baseball career, he also had a knack of saying things that in time were called Yogi-isms. Reading or hearing them generally put a smile on one’s face. One of my favorites is, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” I doubt he was talking about the governmental process in the Nation’s Capital, but what he said does fit perfectly. Thanks, Yogi. R.I.P.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access