(Photo credit: American Trails)
Increase in Funding for RTP Not Part of Senate Infrastructure Package
In early August, the Senate passed a $550 billion infrastructure bill that included reauthorization of the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). The Senate Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) included the congressionally directed Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimate but did not contain the increase in funding for the RTP. Infrastructure bill authors needed an FHWA estimate of nonhighway recreational fuel collections to inform them of any appropriate increase in funding for RTP. Unfortunately, the FHWA estimate was not officially released until July 30, 2021, after the Senate BIF was finalized. Despite solid and bipartisan support for the inclusion of a boost in RTP funding led by Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Risch (R-ID), the Senate ended consideration of all amendments and left RTP annual funding at $84,000,000. Despite this setback, an effort is underway in the House to boost RTP funding at least to the INVEST Act levels through the reconciliation process.
The fuel study was completed by the FHWA in the summer of 2020, and confirmed that federal gas taxes generated through nonhighway recreational activity is nearly $300 million annually or more than three times the current funding of the RTP. Based on this estimate, trail users receive back less than 30% of the taxes they pay in.
ARRA members generated more than 2,000 messages urging their Senators to support the amendment authorized by Senators Klobuchar and Risch to return more for the RTP by increasing the RTP by the same percentage increase as the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) each year in the BIF. However, the amendment did not come to a vote.
The House came back in session on August 23 and, in a 220-212 party-line vote, approved a $3.5 trillion budget resolution and a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The vote allows Democrats to write and approve a reconciliation spending package without the need for Republican votes and puts the Senate-passed infrastructure plan on a path to final passage in the House. ARRA reached out to numerous state delegations and cosponsors of the House RTP Full Funding Act bill H.R. 1864 requesting they endorse a letter of support to Representative DeFazio, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Steny. The letter, authored by Representative Welch (D-VT) requesting that the reconciliation package include funding for the RTP that brings it up to the $147 million per year included in the INVEST Act. More than a dozen cosponsors of H.R. 1864 signed the letter.
Speaker Pelosi stated she is committed to passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27.
Native American nominated to lead National Parks Service
President Biden nominated Charles “Chuck” Sams III to serve as director of the National Park Service. If confirmed, the former director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and current member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council would be the first Native American to direct the agency that oversees millions of acres of ancestral tribal territories and treaty lands that are now national parks or monuments.
A statement by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland – the first Native American to serve in that role – lauded Sams’ nomination and emphasized the importance of protecting the country’s natural resources. The National Park Service is an agency within the Department of the Interior. “The diverse experience that Chuck brings to the National Park Service will be an incredible asset as we work to conserve and protect our national parks to make them more accessible for everyone,” Haaland said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him to welcome Americans from every corner of our country into our national park system.”
The last Senate-confirmed National Park Service director was Jonathan Jarvis in 2009 under the Obama administration. Jarvis held that role until 2017. The Senate is returning from summer recess on September 13 and is expected to take up Sams’ nomination.
Recent BLM Activity
- Salt Lake City, Utah —BLM implemented stage 2 fire restrictions to prevent losses from human-caused wildfires brought on by extreme drought, high fire danger conditions, and the increased use of public lands in Cache, Morgan, Rich, Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Utah, Wasatch, and Weber counties. Currently all BLM public lands in Utah, except for the Vernal Field Office, have implemented stage 2 fire restrictions.
- Montrose, Colorado – Stage 1 fire restrictions for all Bureau of Land Management public lands administered by the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Field Office were rescinded effective on July 23rd. The restrictions, which began on June 24th, aligned with local orders and guidelines to protect the public’s safety during high fire danger. Recent rains over much of the region have lessened, but not eliminated, the danger from fire, allowing restrictions to be lifted. This means campfires are now allowed outside of established campgrounds and recreation sites. The public is asked to continue to be careful with fire and to follow county fire restrictions on private and public lands within local jurisdiction.
- Boise, Idaho – BLM announced it will extend the existing closure of Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, located about five miles west of Garden Valley, for an additional five years to protect public health and safety and prevent additional damage to natural resources. The existing closure was implemented in June 2016 after an environmental analysis concluded that unauthorized construction of pools and piping systems and resulting use posed a public health and safety hazard and damaged natural resources. Prior to the closure, the BLM received repeated complaints from local law enforcement, area landowners, and public health officials related to unsafe and illegal activity at the site. Soon after the closure, a natural rockslide filled the pools, making them largely unusable.
- Southwest Oregon – As the weather continues to trend towards extreme warming and increasing drought conditions, officials with the Bureau of Land Management Medford District, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District increased campfire restrictions on those lands located within the boundaries of the Wild section of the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River. The Wild section flows from Grave Creek to the mouth of Watson Creek. Effective July 28, 2021, building, maintaining, attending, or use of a fire is only permitted with the use of commercial stoves that use liquid fuel or propane. Cooking areas need to be naturally cleared of vegetation, and must be below the high water mark. As a preventative measure, groups traveling on the river must have a shovel and bucket. Charcoal briquettes will not be permitted.
- Las Cruces, New Mexico — The BLM Las Cruces District Office announced on August 1, the visitor centers at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site and Dripping Springs Natural Area reopened. Hours of operation will be limited to accommodate health and safety as well as staffing levels.
- Elko, Nevada — Firefighters responded to the Elbow fire, five miles north of the Shafter Exit of Interstate 80 between Wells and Wendover, Nevada. The fire is currently estimated at 300 acres burning in pinyon and juniper trees near Toana Peak. Fire operations will include single engine air tankers (SEATs) to support crews on the ground working to contain the fire. There are currently no structures at risk, although the fire is in critical mule deer habitat.
- Redding, California – Due to ongoing drought and increasing wildfire dangers, the BLM is prohibiting campfires and barbecues at the Forks of Butte Primitive Campground near Magalia in Butte County. The restriction will be in effect from July 31 until further notice.
- Spokane, Washington – The BLM Spokane District extended fire restrictions on public lands administered by the BLM and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) in eastern Washington. The temporary ban was renewed on August 7, 2021, in the following counties: Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and Yakima.
- Redding, California – The Bureau of Land Management has temporarily closed the BLM-managed public lands west of Junction City because of the rapidly expanding Monument Fire. The closures affect lands west of Canyon Creek and Junction City, north of the Trinity River and California State Route 299, east of North Fork Trinity River, and south of Barney Gulch. “This fire is burning dry timber and brush and including public land areas managed by the BLM,” said Jennifer Mata, manager of the BLM’s Redding Field Office. “This temporary closure is to protect public health and safety.” As of Friday, August 8, the wildfire had burned 36,000 acres. Firefighters are building fire lines, but there is no containment. High temperatures, low humidity, wind, and steep terrain are challenging fire crews.
- Arcata, California – Due to increasing fire dangers and a continuing drawdown of firefighting resources, the BLM increased fired restrictions on public lands managed by the Arcata Field Office in Humboldt, Mendocino, Del Norte, and Trinity counties. Campfires, barbecues, and use of open flame, including camp stoves, will not be allowed until further notice. The restriction applies to all campgrounds, developed recreation sites, dispersed camping areas, and recreation trails, including the Lost Coast Trail in the King Range National Conservation Area.
- Canon City, Colorado – In response to recent widespread precipitation across the region, the BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office lifted fire restrictions on BLM-managed lands in Boulder, Gilpin, Larimer, and Weld counties. The change in restrictions is in response to widespread precipitation over the northern Front Range and to be in concert with other land management agencies across the area. Stage 1 Fire Restrictions were implemented on June 25 due to fuel conditions and expected weather in July.
- Malta, Montana – Due to the rapidly-growing Pine Grove Fire (also called the Hays/Lodgepole Fire), the BLM’s Malta Field Office temporarily closed the Camp Creek Campground, located about 1 mile north of Zortman, and the Montana Gulch Campground, located about 1/2 mile west of Landusky. The campgrounds will remain closed until fire management officials determine it is safe to reopen the area to the public. The fire is currently under the supervision of a Type 3 Incident Command.
- Redding, California – The BLM has temporarily closed public lands in Trinity County to protect public safety from the encroaching Monument Fire. The closure is in effect until further notice. Areas affected are BLM-managed public lands west of Glennison Gap and Democrat Gulch Road, north of California State Highway 3 and Hayfork, east of the North Fork Trinity River and Ewing Reservoir, and south of Barney Gulch.
- Roseburg, Oregon – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Roseburg District has issued an amended emergency closure on BLM administered-public lands near the Rough Patch Complex Fire. The reduction in the closure area to the Francis Creek road restores access to the Scaredman Recreation Area and Campground. The Scaredman campground opened on Monday, August 23, 2021, for reservations through Recreation.gov.
- Lewiston, Idaho – The temporary closure of the Eagle Creek Road in the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area was lifted on August 23. The road closure was in place since mid-July to provide for both the safety of the public and the firefighters working on the Snake River Complex fires. The rugged 16-mile Eagle Creek Road is a popular access point through the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area to the banks of the Lower Salmon River.
- Susanville, California – Hikers, mountain bikers, and runners can again use the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail near Susanville, as the Bureau of Land Management has rescinded a temporary emergency closure associated with the Dixie Fire. Also reopened are the Hobo Camp and Devil’s Corral trailheads and all other BLM-managed lands that were affected by the emergency closure that went into effect August 16. This includes BLM-managed lands south of California Highway 36, west of U.S. 395, and north and east of the Lassen National Forest boundary.