This was going to be a difficult newsletter to prepare given the partial federal government shutdown that lasted 35 days, the longest ever in our nation’s history. More than 800,000 federal workers did not receive paychecks. Many were furloughed and others were told that they needed to report to work without pay.
Fortunately, a three-week reprieve was agreed to and the federal government will be fully operational through at least February 15th. What comes after that date is anyone’s guess. What is known is that federal workers returned to their offices facing a huge work backlog covering all types of government services. This includes processing permits for specific OHV recreational activities as well as the processing of grant applications for public lands projects. It’s going to be a couple of more weeks before we know the full extent of how the shutdown affected outdoor recreation.
There is a growing sense, at least among members of Congress, that a second shutdown is not in the cards. The political damage from the first shutdown was too severe to go through this yet, again. The special House/Senate conference that is working to develop a solution to the border wall funding issue will do their level best to produce a plan that the Republican congressional leadership can take to the President with the recommendation that he approve the deal. Even so, a lot of federal employees remain anxious about what could happen after February 15th.
In terms of our public lands, employees of the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service are now back on the job. Some National Parks will still be closed until employees can assess damage caused by fierce winter storms.
The 35-day shutdown did take its toll on some of our federal lands given that normal use continued in many recreation areas. At some point, certain federal facilities were closed to visitors because litter wasn’t being picked up, bathrooms cleaned or trails maintained. And, unfortunately, some visitors were either careless or destructive during their time visiting these special places. Thankfully, many OHV clubs throughout the country quickly stepped up to the fill the void left by those federal employees who were told to remain at home. OHV enthusiasts picked up litter, cleaned bathrooms, maintain OHV trails and groomed snowmobile trails all because it was the right thing to do. They didn’t have to be asked. They saw what was needed to be done and they did it.
Over the years, the OHV community has done a good job of forming partnerships with federal land managers. In the last few weeks, we have seen those partnerships taken to a whole new level. These clubs deserve our thanks.
The federal government shutdown meant that the Congress was distracted beginning with the very first day of the new session. While new members were sworn in, the usual organizational activities of a new Congress got off to a slow start.
The House Natural Resources Committee only finalized its roster of committee members on January 30th. In addition to new members on the committee, the subcommittees have new leaders as well. Freshman Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) is the new Chair of National Parks, Forest and Forest Lands Subcommittee (formerly called the Federal Lands Subcommittee) and Rep Don Young (R-AK) the longest serving House member, will serve as the Ranking Minority Member. Reps. Young and Haaland will make an interesting team. The new Chair of the subcommittee has served in the House for one month and her Ranking member has been there for almost 50 years!
In the January newsletter, we discussed the fact that the omnibus public lands legislation was not approved during the Lame Duck Session but that the joint House/Senate leadership had committed to bring the omnibus up for consideration early in the new session. We are now hearing that it is likely that Senate will vote on the omnibus either the first or second week of February. We believe the measure will pass and will then be sent to the House. What remains unclear is whether the House will quickly move ahead with the Senate passed version of the omnibus or whether changes will be made to the composition of the package. If changes are made, then a Senate/House conference will be required to work out the differences.
At the end of the day, we believe some version of the omnibus will become law. What is unknown is how soon that will be.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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