So much has happened since our last newsletter. The death of former President George H. W. Bush provides us with a reminder of a passing era. It is good to see that the media and historians are finally recognizing the significant contributions he made to this country throughout his public career but especially during his time in the White House. Also, the results of the November mid-term elections are in and the make-up of the 116th Congress when it convenes in January is going to be very different from the one that is about to close shop for good. We will have more on the implications of the new Congress and what it will mean for outdoor recreation in our January newsletter.
Another major event, and a very sad one indeed, were the horrible wildfires in California. The wildfire known as the Camp Fire virtually wiped out the town of Paradise. More than 88 deaths known to date and over 18,000 structures destroyed all in the matter of hours. And the death toll will likely rise as first responders continue to search block after block of burned out homes and commercial buildings.
The National Interagency Fire Center says that 2018 has been one of the severest fire seasons on record. More than 52,000 fires have burned destroying more that 8.3 million acres. This compares with the 10-year average of 60,000 fires with 6.3 million acres burned.
Lame Duck Session
Well, the Lame Duck session is in full swing with the projected adjournment date around December 14th. A lot of unfinished business remains including completion of the FY19 appropriations. The current continuing resolution expires on December 7th. Even though almost 75% of the federal government has full funding for the current fiscal year, there are some agencies operating with only partial funding. A major sticking point in completing the appropriations process appears to be the disagreement over the funding level for the border wall between the U. S. and Mexico. President Trump is arguing for more money and the Congress seems to be in favor of less. Unless there is a resolution, there could be a partial government shutdown, and the Department of the Interior would be one of those agencies affected.
In just over the last couple of days, there have been discussions about passing another short-term continuing resolution in order to provide more time to work out these differences. The short-term extension could be for a couple of weeks or possibly could extend into January 2019. We should have more clarity on this extension by the end of this week.
Omnibus Public Lands Bill
In our last newsletter, we listed several bills that we hoped would be included in an omnibus public lands package that might be brought up on the Senate and House floors during the Lame Duck session. As we prepare this newsletter, we simple don’t know whether this will happen. The holdup is getting the appropriations process completed. It is also uncertain whether there is enough Senate floor time available to consider the omnibus bill during the remaining days of the session. The House rules are such that an omnibus package could be considered in an expeditious fashion, but the Senate, as is usually the case, is the potential stumbling block to passage.
There is one piece of legislation that gives us serious concern and that is the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, (S. 2809/H.R. 5727). To put it bluntly, this legislation is not kind to OHV recreation. We have worked closely with the OHV community in Utah as they have tried to seek improvements in the legislation. The sponsors have been either been unwilling or unable to address these concerns. Just this week, more than 30 OHV organizations in Utah wrote to Rep. Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, to request that he not include the Emery County legislation in any omnibus public lands package that might be proposed. ARRA has now joined with 10 other national OHV organizations in supporting the position of the Utah organizations. The national organizations have sent a similar letter to the Chairman asking that the Emery County legislation not be included in the omnibus package. Click here if you would like to read that letter (in PDF).
It’s too early to know whether this effort to stop this legislation from advancing will be successful. But there are times when it is necessary to say, enough is enough, and as it relates to the Emery County legislation, this is one of those times. We will give you an update on the status in the January newsletter.
Changes in the President’s Cabinet
There has been a lot of speculation about possible changes in the composition of the President’s Cabinet. One possible change might include the Secretary for the Department of the Interior. We have no idea whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke might be leaving his post, but the mere rumor does serve as a distraction for the Department’s top management.
What we do know is that Secretary Zinke has been very supportive of outdoor recreation since taking office. He has elevated the importance of recreating on the public lands more so than any of his recent predecessors. Going forward this focus must continue. We hope he will continue to lead the agency, but if not, his successor must keep outdoor recreation as a top priority.
Right after the first of the year, ARRA will be launching a new website. We are very excited about the new design. We hope and believe it will be easier to navigate so it will become an even better resource for you to track public lands issues both in your state and across the nation. We anticipate going “live” shortly after the New Year, so please be on the lookout for our new look.
Finally, all of us at ARRA hope this holiday season will be a meaningful time for you and your family. Despite the rush of the season, we hope you will be able to carve out a little time to be outdoors with those closest to you.
Merry Christmas and a Happy 2019!!!
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)