All Eyes on Utah
President Trump is scheduled to make a trip to Utah next week during which he will announce his decision to reduce the size of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Over the past few months, there has been a lot of speculation building over what the President would do with the recommendations he received from Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, after Zinke reviewed monument designations under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The current rumor is that the President will announce his intention to reduce the size of Bears Ears by more than 1 million acres. We are also hearing that Grand Staircase-Escalante could receive a reduction ranging from 700,000 acres to 1.2 million acres.
The controversy surrounding these particular national monuments stems back to the very days when President Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument back in 1996 during the closing days of his Administration and when President Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument in December, 2016. In both cases, many officials in Utah were vehemently opposed to the designations.
We anticipate there will be legal challenges to this presidential action. We do not, however, believe this will deter President Trump from taking similar action as it relates to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. The only unknown is when and where the President will announce his decision on these two national monuments.
Running Out of Time
Funding for the federal government expires on December 8th. In time the Trump Administration and the Congress will agree on a means to fund the federal government for the rest of this fiscal year, December 9 – September 30, 2018, but the obstacles are many. This week the Senate is totally preoccupied with tax reform. Talks between the Administration and key House and Senate appropriators have made little progress to date. If history is any guide, real progress won’t happen until the bewitching hour on December 7th. Unless unforeseen circumstances were to arise, it is likely the Congress will pass another short term continuing resolution to fund the government into late December or early January in order to avert a government-wide shutdown and provide more time for negotiations.
We think the federal lands agencies will continue to operate under some severe fiscal constraints given the overall workload of the agencies. It is difficult to know what this means for recreation. Solving the wildfire funding dilemma would certainly be a help; and there are a variety of proposals out there that would do just that. But we think it could be well into 2018 before we see a resolution on that issue.
What is encouraging is that the Trump Administration is taking a more proactive stance on recreation on federal lands and what it means to the national economy than what we have seen from previous Administrations. So, the struggle of convincing policymakers that recreation is important is no longer the challenge. The challenge now is channeling the needed resources to the agencies so they can turn this new emphasis on the value of recreation into a reality on the ground.
Further evidence of the Administration’s support for recreation on public lands is the fact that Secretary Zinke announced the formation of a new Recreation Advisory Committee. One of the goals of the Committee is to find ways to improve access to public lands. If you would like to learn more about the process of becoming a member of this Advisory Committee, please go to this link to access the announcement in the November 8th edition of the Federal Register. Click here.
Acting BLM Director
Ten months into the life of this Administration and the Bureau of Land Management finally has an Acting Director, sort of. Brian Steed, former Chief of Staff to Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), has been named to the post. Steed had been serving as Deputy Director of the Bureau prior to his elevation to the top spot. Some outside groups quibbled that Steed was not eligible as Acting Director because he had only been at BLM since this fall. When it was pointed out that Steed had not been at BLM for at least 90 days prior to his appointment as Acting Director, thus making him ineligible under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Secretary Zinke’s spokesperson said, “technically he is acting with the full delegated functions, duties, responsibilities and authority of the BLM director but does not have the title of ‘acting BLM director.” Now that is what I would call creative government talk!
BLM, Rio Blanco County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have been working to expand and enhance OHV riding opportunities in Northwest Colorado. Back in 2013, Rio Blanco County initiated a master plan to increase OHV trails in the county. In 2016, Colorado Parks provided the county a grant to implement the project, now called the Wagon Wheel West OHV Trails project. The proposed OHV system will total 364 miles of trails; county trails, BLM trails, and some new trails on private land.
The Bureau is currently receiving public comments on the environmental assessment of its portion of the OHV system, 141 miles of OHV trails. Comments are due by December 31, 2017. If you would like to add your comments, please go to this link.
And if you are going to be in the vicinity of Rio Blanco County in the summer of 2018, prepare yourself for a whole new riding experience with new signage and other amenities. Three different government units working together can make a difference and they are going to show how it is done in Northwest Colorado, all to the benefit to OHV recreation.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)