It seems as though this summer is zooming by. Parents we know are already making preparations to get their kids back to school. There is still time to involve the family in some type of outdoor recreation and sometimes making the decision on what to do is the tough part. Well, there is a new brochure that displays all of the public lands and waterways managed by seven federal agencies. These links will take you to the brochure and to the map so you can find the perfect place to take your family for that last summer get together before school begins. Another useful website is www.recreation.gov. Another useful website is www.recreation.gov.
Speaking of public lands, the looming maintenance backlog for our federal lands agencies is obscene. Just the backlog for the National Park Service stands at $12 billion! There is plenty of blame to go around for this sorry state of disrepair; previous Administrations that didn’t budget enough funds to keep things in good repair and previous Congresses that didn’t step up to the plate and say that we needed to do better. But the problem just doesn’t rest with the Park Service because the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service also suffer under the burden of deferred maintenance. Now the financial tab is so huge, extraordinary efforts are needed to turn things around.
In an unusual display of a bi-partisanship, Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Resources Committee, and Raul Grijalva, the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee, have joined together in offering legislation that would create the National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund, H.R. 6510. The new Fund would receive 50 percent of all revenue the federal government receives from energy production on both federal lands and waters. But it isn’t all oil production. Alternative and renewable energy production such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower would also be contributing.
Similar legislation (S. 3172) was introduced in the Senate by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Angus King (I-ME), among others. The Senate bill only addresses the maintenance backlog for the National Park Service but uses the same funding mechanism as found in H.R. 6510. We expect that in time, the Senate bill will be expanded to include the other federal agencies as specified in the Bishop/Grijalva legislation. Unfortunately, neither of these bills include funding for the maintenance backlog on U. S. Forest Service lands.
There are multiple hurdles that must be overcome before this legislation can become law, but we think it is a very good idea. All types of recreation, including motorized recreation, will be beneficiaries of the Restoration Fund. While we applaud Reps. Bishop and Grijalva and Senators Portman and King for addressing this problem head-on, ARRA continues to urge inclusion of the USFS in these bills. We will soon be asking ARRA members to contact their Representatives and Senators to support these initiatives and ask that the Forest Service backlog be addressed as well.
Before the House of Representatives left Washington for the August recess, it passed a series of measures including the FY 2019 Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill, H.R. 6147. The very next week, the measure was up on the Senate floor. The Senate decided to complicate things a bit by adding three other appropriations measures to the Interior bill including Financial Services, Transportation and Agriculture. In other words, a “minibus” rather than doing an omnibus encompassing all federal agencies.
The Senate isn’t quite finished with the bill, but we are hoping the final action can take place in the next several days. The Senate plans to appropriate about $600 million more to the land agencies than the House, so a conference committee will be needed to iron out the differences between the two bills. Also, the House added a number of policy riders to the measure such as sage grouse and wolf delisting from the Endangered Species Act classification, all of which will need to be a part of the conference committee’s agenda.
As a whole, the House and the Senate are behind in finalizing the 13 separate appropriations measures needed to fund the federal government beginning October 1, 2018. In part this explains why the Senate decided to go forward with the minibus. A government shutdown can be avoided but with the House out until after Labor Day, a continuing resolution for some areas of the government might be required. If so, we are hoping that Interior Appropriations will be the exception and that our federal land agencies will receive full funding right at the beginning of the fiscal year. At least it would be a major step forward in good management and fiscal responsibility, but it is up to the Congress to make it so.
As we reported in a previous newsletter, earlier this year Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled big plans for the reorganization of the Department of the Interior. Those plans called for changing the boundaries of federal regions and for relocating the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from Washington to a western city where its employees would be closer to the actual lands they manage. The reconfiguration of the federal regions received immediate pushback from state governments and the Congress so the agency literally went back to the drawing board to redraw the boundaries of the regions. Those revisions received a better reception.
At a July 19th hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Susan Combs, a senior advisor at the Department, indicated that Secretary Zinke still intended to move forward in relocating BLM to somewhere in the west though she did not reveal the actual location. She said that more news would be forthcoming later this year. Denver, Colorado is being mentioned as a potential site for the move, but to all those BLM employees dreaming of the Rocky Mountains, a word of caution: Denver’s traffic is worse that D.C.’s.
Secretary Zinke also proposed that the Forest Service be merged with BLM. We were told just this week that Agriculture Secretary Perdue politely said that such a move would not have his support. We believe this means that Forest Service employees need not worry about packing their bags.
On July 18th, the Department of the Interior held its first meeting of its newly formed “Made in America’ Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee. Encompassing all forms of outdoor recreation, including motorized recreation, the committee explored ideas on how to make it possible for more Americans to enjoy the great outdoors. A primary focus is how to harness the power of public-private partnerships to the benefit of those Americans wanting to explore our federal lands and waterways.
Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the formation of the committee back in March, 2018. The Secretary has said that he thinks that it is important for the Interior Department to receive input from the private sector on creative ways to improve access and the experience of those recreating on federal lands and waterways. The next scheduled meeting of the Advisory Committee will be in November, 2018. We are enthusiastic about the formation of the Committee and optimistic that some creative ideas for the benefit of the recreating public will come out of these consultations.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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