Tongass National Forest (USDA Photo)
On Nov. 13th the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing regarding the administration’s proposal to lift the roadless area protections in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The proposal by the administration aims to exempt all 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas from restrictions that prevent the building of roads, timber harvests and other activities. The subcommittee was largely split along party lines, but the sentiment from the panelists was that they have no interest in lifting the roadless protections. The panelists were concerned about the negative impact on the salmon industry, as the region is the largest salmon producer in the world. Additional logistic and economic concerns included power, communications, mining, development and broadband communications.
Although the timber industry was not part of the hearing, the representative for Taxpayers for Common Sense stated, “the repeal would not be in the best interest of tax payers and the roadless rule is basically about road building for the timber industry.” Ranking Member, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) disagreed with the statement and stated, ”This is not about logging. It is about easing restrictions on road building which would help other industries such as mining and hydropower. It could also open up relatively small areas of the forest to development that might help turn around southeast Alaska’s economic woes and improve communication networks across remote areas, among other improvements.”
Chairwoman Deb Haaland (D-NM) accused the administration of “succumbing to industry pressures and ignoring the opposition of Alaska’s Native tribes.”
Panel members included representatives from U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, a Tribal Council President from Alaska, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Alaska Director of Law and Policy. The administration’s proposal to lift the roadless area protections is currently in a 60-day comment period and an administration official expects the final rule to be implemented in 2020.
On Nov. 19th the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a committee mark up on several legislative bills before the committee. One of those bills was S. 500, the Restore Our Parks Act. The legislation sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), establishes a dedicated fund from federal land oil and gas drilling revenues to address the approximately $5.2 billion maintenance backlog of the National Park Service. The measure which included an amendment by Sen. Michael Lee (R-UT) to provide a definition of the term “deferred maintenance,” passed out of committee 15-5.
In the House H.R. 1225, Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, introduced by Rep. Bishop (R-UT) was amended by Natural Resources Committee and discharged by the House Education and Labor Committee on Oct. 22nd. H.R. 1225 is currently awaiting floor activity in the House.
Winnemucca Sand Dunes (Travel Nevada Photo)
The Bureau of Land Management Humboldt River Field Office will be seeking public input during the development of the Winnemucca Sand Dunes (WSD) Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP). The RAMP will address items like recreation, visitor services, long-term goals and maintenance. In an effort to stay ahead of the curve, BLM recreation planners will make themselves available at the entrance of WSD through several weekends between November and December to collect input from the public to consider in the plan. According to Heather Hanlon of BLM, they will collect information from the public and will not start scoping until late January or early February of 2020. The WSD is a low-lying sand dune complex in Humboldt County in Winnemucca, Nevada that stretches approximately 40 miles east to west. The area has historically been a popular destination for off-roading recreation, along with camping and (fat tire) mountain biking. You may submit comments or address questions regarding the RAMP by emailing Heather Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Oct. 31st the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on S. 1665, the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR Act), sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and S. 1967, the Recreation Not Red Tape Act, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Panelists included representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State University and the outdoor recreation community. The hearing was non-controversial as Committee members from both sides of the aisle were genuinely sympathetic to the issues affecting the outdoor recreation community.
On Nov. 18th Congress agreed to a Continuing Resolution (CR) H.R. 3055 which funds the federal government at Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 levels through Dec. 20th. The House passed the CR on a bipartisan 231 to 192 vote and the Senate by a vote of 74-20.
House and Senate Appropriators continued their discussions with hopes of reaching a resolution on the 12 FY 2020 individual spending bills and on Nov. 23rd announced they had made progress by agreeing on the overall spending levels for each of the 12 bills that fund the government. House and Senate Appropriators hope to pass the 12 FY 2020 spending bills before the CR expires on Dec. 20th.
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