Transportation Reauthorization Update
Just prior to leaving Washington for the Memorial Day holiday, Congress reauthorized federal transportation programs, including the Recreational Trails Program, for a whopping two months. One can conclude there are two possible reasons for the two month extension. The first reason is that a multi-year extension is in the works and only 60 additional days are needed to complete work on the details on finding the necessary revenue to fund a multi-year bill. The second reason may be they don’t have a clue on how to fund a multi-year reauthorization bill and have decided to kick the can down the road for two months in hopes that in that time someone will have a brilliant idea on how to tackle the problem.
Seriously though, the “problem” is not easily solved. To do a multi-year bill, say for 6 years, anywhere from $90-100 billion in additional revenue would have to be raised to fund the measure. The existing federal excise tax on fuel just doesn’t cover it. Politically, it is a difficult job to raise taxes, even taxes on fuel. To have funded the bill through the end of 2015, the tax writing committees would have had to identify more than $11 billion in additional revenue sources. Even the two month extension has a cost to it.
We keep harping on the subject because the life of the Recreational Trails Program is tied to the transportation reauthorization measure. This means, of course, you will be hearing more about this in the coming months. We keep hoping that a multi-year solution will be found, though our fear is that the political will is such that only short term measures will be achievable.
“Backcountry home” from the National Park Service Alaska Lake Clark website. Photo by Sue Mauger.
Land Management Agency Funding for FY16
Things don’t look too promising on funding issues for those agencies falling under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior such as the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Senate Appropriations Committee completed its work on allocating spending limits for the various subcommittees under its jurisdiction (these are called 302 (b) allocations under the Budget Control Act of 1974) and gave the Interior Subcommittee $400 million less to work with than current funding levels in FY15. This means there is going to be a fiscal haircut at the Interior Department as well as the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) since it also falls under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee. Given that the cost of fighting wildfires continues to rise and particularly so this year with the severe drought conditions in the western part of the U.S., the NPS, the BLM and the USFS are all going to have to do more with less. No doubt this will have an impact on recreational activities on these public lands.
Another Monument Designation?
The Obama Administration appears to be laying the groundwork for another monument designation, this time in Nevada. Rep. Crescent Hardy (R-NV) disclosed in early May that the White House had drafted a Presidential declaration that would designate more than 700,000 acres in southeastern Nevada in an area known as the Great Basin. The land in question is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the new monument would be called the “Basin and Range National Monument.” It is too early to know if or when the President will sign the declaration.
Rep. Hardy’s primary concern about the monument status is that it will interfere with the airspace that the military uses for training exercises on the Nevada Test & Training Range. Rep. Hardy has also suggested that recreational use would also be impaired. The Nevada Congressional delegation seems to be divided on this issue since Senator Reid has expressed support for the monument designation. Maybe a Congressional hearing on this particular designation would help disclose all of the unknown risks associated with making this area our latest national monument. A little transparency never hurts.
Sage Grouse Update
In the May newsletter, we reported how Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) succeeded in adding language to the Defense Authorization measure prohibiting for 10 years the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The House has since completed action on that measure and the Bishop language remains in the bill. The White House has now threatened to veto the defense bill because of the Bishop language, but no one at this point is taking that veto threat very seriously. The Senate has not completed work on its version of the authorization measure so there are still many twists and turns to this Congressional saga.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration, faced with a court mandated deadline of September on whether to list the sage grouse as an endangered species, just announced the latest step in its efforts to preserve critical sage grouse habitat in ten western states. Fourteen final environmental impact statements covering a large scale conservation effort by the Bureau of Land Management were released on May 23rd. Once published in the Federal Register, a thirty day comment period will be open. This effort will eventually lead to amending more than 100 land use management plans by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management affecting the use of millions of acres of federal lands. This effort along with efforts by various state governments and private property owners is a mad rush to protect significant habitat so the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) does not have to decide the bird must be listed as an endangered species under ESA. Sadly, whatever the FWS decides to do, another court battle is likely to ensue.
If that bird only knew the angst it is creating in the halls of Congress, the Pentagon, the White House and much of the west. It clearly has a lot of clout!
The Foggy Dew riding area in Washington State. Photo by Byron Stuck.
With the summer recreation season about to begin, many ARRA enthusiasts are also excellent photographers. We would like to invite you to again share with us those special photos of special places you visit while off-roading, hiking, boating, camping and even snowmobiling from this past winter. We have used some of these photos in past newsletters like the one shown here. If you do send us photos, and we hope you do, please remember that we reserve the right to use at our own discretion.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access