Happy New Year!
There is something to be said about starting a new year. We can put the shortcomings of the previous year are behind us and have a clean slate ahead of us. Probably wishful thinking, at least on my part, but there is some comfort in starting anew.
Lame Duck Congress
Speaking of shortcomings, in the last newsletter I boldly wrote, “I have never witnessed a Lame Duck session that is productive. Well, this session was lame, but before limping out of town for one last time, the Congress did do the following:
— funded the federal government to the tune of $1.1 trillion through September, 2015;
–passed an omnibus public lands bill that encompassed 96 separate bills totaling more than 451 pages which was then creatively tucked into the massive defense reauthorization bill.
–delayed for one year the ability of the Obama Administration to list the greater sage-grouse and the Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
–extended the authorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancements Act (FLREA) through to September, 2016
Funding for the Public Lands Agencies
As mentioned, Congress finally funded the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, September, 2015. With the a quarter of the fiscal year already completed, the federal land agencies now know how much money they have to spend through the rest of the fiscal year. Overall, funding for 2015 was generally status quo with what the agencies received in 2014.
Here is a summary of the numbers:
General Forest Service Funding
FY2014 $1.497 billion
FY2015 $1.494 billion
Forest Service Recreation Programs
FY2014 $261.7 million
FY2015 $261.7 million
Forest Service Trail Maintenance and Construction
FY2014 $75 million
FY20915 $77.5 million
Bureau of Land Management Recreation
FY2014 $66.9 million
FY2-15 $67 million
Forest Fire Fighting (Forest Service and Interior Department combined)
FY2014 $3.263.5 billion
FY2015 $3.532 billion
The new Congress convenes for the very first time on January 7th. The first day is always a festive one especially for the newly elected members and their families. The reality of having to govern will soon set in especially for the Republicans now that they are firmly in control both chambers of Congress. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the new Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) have both pledged their intention for both chambers to legislate with bi-partisan input. We will soon know whether they are able to fulfill that pledge.
It will take a couple of weeks for committee assignments, the selection of new subcommittee chairs and staffing issues to be settled, but we anticipate that by the end of January, things will begin to pick up speed on the legislative front. We will be looking for opportunities to further our recreation agenda.
The reauthorization of the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) continues to be a front and center issue for us. We are fortunate to have strong bi-partisan leadership on this issue in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, we are in a re-building phase in terms of RTP champions because of the retirement of both Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin) and Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine). Working closely with the Coalition for Recreational Trails (CRT), we have begun to identify and approach potential leaders in the House and we anticipate that this process will soon be completed. Then we can begin the overall task of working this issue during the next six months as both chambers work on overall transportation reauthorization which RTP falls under. Your assistance, as always, will be an important component to this effort.
We mentioned that the 113th Congress reauthorized the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) through September of 2016. This extension will allow the land agencies to continue to collect fees for various recreational activities and give Congress more time to reform this important federal program.
Last year, Rep. Rob Bishop, (R-Utah) proposed legislation in the House of Representatives that would revise FLREA, though support for his revision was mixed among some interest groups. ARRA supported Rep. Bishop’s effort and we anticipate that we will be working closely with him on this issue as well as other recreation issues in the 114th Congress now that he has become the Chairman of the full House Resources Committee.
I want to begin this New Year by acknowledging and thanking all ARRA members for their consistent involvement and support for our efforts to further recreation opportunities on public lands. We could not do our work without you. So, thank you!
We look forward to working you throughout 2015.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)