We don’t normally comment on electoral politics but we will make an exception by just noting that it’s official, we now know for certain the identity of the presidential candidates for the two major political parties. It seemed like the primary season would never end. Now the real fun begins with tough campaigning to follow. It used to be that campaigns didn’t actually begin until the Labor Day holiday, but with the advent of the 24/7 news cycle and social media, the presidential campaign between the two major candidates is already off and running.
Recreational Trails Program (RTP)
We note with some level of concern that the Republican Party platform calls for removing from the Highway Trust Fund a host of programs that aren’t actually “highway” related including the Recreational Trails Program. On the face of it we understand the sentiment that non-related transportation programs should be funded elsewhere, but we do think that a very strong case can be made that RTP is different.
First, the original sponsor of the program was a Republican from Idaho, former Senator Steve Symms. The concept then and still is that if recreationists are buying fuel to operate their vehicles in an off-road environment and paying the federal gas tax to boot, then they should benefit in a little way by using a portion of those taxes, probably no more than 30 cents on the dollar, to build and maintain recreational trails.
While I am not too worried that this particular section of the Republican platform will make it into law, it is a warning shot that we still have more work to do in terms of educating legislators on the history of RTP and why it merits retention. We have been duly warned and will act accordingly.
Traveling Secretary Jewell
As we discussed in our last newsletter, Secretary Jewell did make it to Utah to discuss the Bears Ears area and whether it merits protection either by a Presidential declaration as a National Monument or by legislative protection as encompassed in H.R. 5781, as proposed by Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz. The Secretary made it clear that the Administration is determined to resolve this issue either administratively or legislatively by the end of the year. In other words, they will do something about Bears Ears before they shut down their computers on January 20th, 2017.
ARRA supports the legislative approach because it requires greater consensus in formulating policy on the proper scope of protection. We believe that the collaborative process that Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz forged provides the best means for successfully protecting this special area, while also accommodating multiple uses such as motorized recreation where appropriate. We are hoping that the Administration will come to the same conclusion but fear they will take the easy way out by administrative fiat.
Before leaving town for the August break, the House of Representatives completed work on the FY17 Interior Appropriations measure. Included in the bill were restrictions on presidential monument designations. The Senate must still act. At a minimum it seems like a continuing resolution will be needed for short term funding of the federal government beginning October 1st. Our crystal ball tells us that final passage of a stand-alone Interior Appropriations bill is unlikely due to the controversial issues at hand as well as the limited number of days the Congress will be in session during the rest of 2016.
The best chance for long term funding of the federal government seems to be the passage of a massive omnibus measure, possibly during the lame duck session, where all of the separate appropriations bills are cobbled together into one bill. While it is not necessarily the best way to fund the federal government, it does get the job done.
Clear Creek Moves Forward
Legislation that would restore OHV riding in the Clear Creek area in San Benito and Fresno Counties in California, H.R. 1838, authored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), was approved by the House of Representatives on July 5, 2016. This important legislative milestone has been a long time in the making and something on which ARRA has worked closely with the Farr office. The measure now goes to the Senate for action. We have already begun to work on the Senate side in hopes that similar action can be taken before the conclusion of this session of Congress. This is a priority of ours and we will keep you posted as developments occur.
California State Parks
Some of the premier OHV riding area in California are managed by the State’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division which comes under its parent agency, the Department of Parks and Recreation. There is a movement afoot to do some reorganizing of that agency and there is a concern by some that the unique attributes of the OHMVR program might be lost in that reorganization. California OHV enthusiasts are on top of this issue and are actively engaged in discussions with state officials.
Reorganization issues are never easy. So far there seems to be very good engagement on the part of all interested parties. The wider OHV community is fortunate that California OHV enthusiasts are totally focused on how this reorganization is taking shape and are actively working to protect OHV interests.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)