The Bureau of Land Management has begun to receive a little heat over its proposed revision of its planning rule process. The concerns range from the fact that the new process emphasizes a landscape-level approach to the reduced the amount of time for public comment.
We discussed this issue in our March newsletter and expressed our own concern that the effort would focus too much on the landscape-level perspective rather than just planning for BLM land use. Congress has begun to weigh in and concerns are being expressed on both sides of the aisle. At a recent hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK) Chair of the Committee and Senator John Barrasso, (R-WY) Chairman of the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining, both expressed concerns about 2.0. Barrasso probably summed it up best when he said, “While there is no doubt that the BLM’s current planning process is often cumbersome and inefficient, I am concerned that instead of increasing public involvement and streamlining the planning process, Planning 2.0 will be less efficient, more costly, and marginalize experts who are integral to public land management.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was also critical that the agency was shortening the time available for public review of proposed resource management plans (RMPs). “I am pleased that the BLM has made early public participation a goal, but I’ve got to say, I am concerned that the agency is working against itself by proposing to reduce minimum public comment period.” 2.0 is proposing to reduce the public comment period on proposed draft plan from 90 days under existing regulations to 60 days, hence Senator Warren’s concerns.
As we have previously said, the Obama Administration wants to wrap this up before it leaves town in January. I suspect that after the Senate hearing, the legal scribes at BLM will be working overtime to make some necessary adjustments to the 2.0 planning rule proposal before it is finalized.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has announced that sometime this summer she intends to visit the Bears Ears region in San Juan County, Utah. The Secretary says that she intends to meet with local residents to discuss the need to protect cultural and natural resources of this area. If recent history is any guide, when the Secretary says she is planning to pay a visit, a monument designation soon follows.
There is an intense debate in Utah on how to protect this special area. Some have argued very strongly that only a monument designation of more than 1.9 million acres is the way to go while many state elected officials have argued for a different approach that calls for the creation of a conservation area. This approach, one that would require legislation, will not only protect this area but will also accommodate, where appropriate, multiple uses like motorized recreation, energy exploration and mining.
Because of the motorized recreation issue, we are following this very closely and have been working with the Utah congressional delegation as they seek to put forth a legislative solution. The Secretary’s announced visit, though the actual date has yet to be disclosed, adds more pressure on those of us who prefer the legislative approach versus a monument designation.
The House Appropriations Committee has completed its work on the FY17 Interior Appropriations measure and that measure is slated for full House action in July. The Committee added a very important provision to the bill that would forbid the designation of national monuments in specific counties in eight different states. For this to become effective the Senate would have to agree to the provision and that is unlikely. However, the provision does focus attention on the ongoing controversy surrounding monument designations and the ramifications of those designations.
An example of unexpected ramifications has to do with the 704,000 acre Basin and Range National Monument in Nevada that President Obama designated back in July, 2015. In the President’s proclamation, he specified that motorized recreation would be permitted “but only on those roads existing as of the date of this proclamation.” An organization called PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, has filed a formal complaint with the Bureau of Land Management because the agency is going to authorize an off-road race in the Monument area. It is important to note that this race has been held in this area for over 10 years and the permit seeking permission for this year’s race was filed in May, 2015, two months before the area was designated as a National Monument.
One of PEER’s complaints is that BLM is allowing this race to go forward before it completes a new management plan for the Monument area, something it is required to do within three years of the actual designation. It is totally unrealistic to assume that they agency could have completed this task within one year of the designation so the PEER complaint is without merit.
The PEER intervention with this off-road race is just one good example why the Appropriations language having to do with national monuments is so important. It’s time to take a long pause on any more designations.
In early June, ten trail projects were awarded Coalition of Recreational Trails (CRT) Tom Petri Annual Award in recognition of their outstanding use of Recreational Trails Program (RTP) funds. Among the projects receiving an award was the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council’s (NOHVCC) Great Trails is “a resource guide for the design, planning, construction, maintenance, and management of quality off-highway vehicle trails systems which are sustainable and fun to ride.” Congratulations to our friends at NOHVCC for receiving this recognition. Great Trails will be a key resource for years to come in the development of sustainable OHV trails. If you are interested, you can purchase Great Trails in book form or better yet, download for free. To learn more go to http://gt.nohvcc.org.
With the summer recreation season upon us, we are once again encouraging ARRA members to send us their favorite photos of recreating on public lands. Please include photos of your family activities including motorized recreation. ARRA reserves the right to use photos submitted for future newsletters and on our website. One note of caution, we are only interested in those photos where the participants are recreating in a safe and responsible manner. Please submit your photos to the ARRA webmaster. email@example.com
Enjoy your summer!
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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