Stanislaus National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest

Fire Season!

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has issued some dire warnings for the 2016 fire season. He specifically mentioned the Southwest and California. He said that California alone has more than 40 million dead trees, 29 million of which died just last year. Given that the drought has lasted more than five years, the threat of a major conflagration is very serious.

Last year, the Forest Service devoted 52% of its budget for firefighting efforts. The House Appropriations Committee has increased that percentage to 55% for FY17 to the tune of $2.9 billion. It’s mind-boggling that the agency has to devote more than half of its budget to firefighting rather than to the cultivation and management of our national forests.

To its credit, the Obama Administration continues to advocate for the creation of a disaster fund to cover the cost of major national fires, but the Congress has yet to reach a consensus on this approach. This means that other Forest Service programs, like recreation, will be subjected to seizure (they call it borrowing) when the Forest Service firefighting coffers run dry. There has to be a better way.

Sage Grouse Rider

A quick update on congressional efforts to tie the Administration’s hands in moving ahead with its management plans for the sage grouse. We reported in last month’s newsletter that Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) succeeded in attaching a rider in the House version of the FY17 defense authorization measure that would block the Administration from moving ahead with its sage grouse management plan. Since then the Senate Armed Services Committee has reported out its version of the authorization measure and pointedly did not include any riders like the House sage grouse rider. This means there will be a showdown on this issue when the two committees meet in conference to work out the differences between the two measures.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was insistent that the Senate bill remain rider free. No doubt he and Rep. Bishop will have some interesting discussions as they line up on separate sides of the issue.

Land Between The Lakes
Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area

National Monuments

Typically when the Obama Administration gets ready to designate another national monument, a cabinet official visits the locality, meets with a group of citizens (many pre-selected) and then pronounces that there is widespread support for the designation and within a matter of weeks, the presidential pen springs into action. To call these meetings a sham would probably be a bit much, so let’s just say that participation in the meetings isn’t always a good representation of the state.

In recent weeks we have begun to see opinion polls taken to gauge local interest, support or opposition, in designating a new national monument. We recently saw polls in both Arizona and Utah, and if taken seriously by the Administration, would go towards slowing the monument designation train.

Monument designations continue to be controversial pitting interest group against interest group. Supporting our national parks doesn’t necessarily translate into supporting a particular monument designation just like wanting to take the go slow approach on designations doesn’t mean one is against national parks or public lands.

Real transparency in the process and keeping monuments to a reasonable size would go a long way towards minimizing angst and anger so many people have towards our federal government. For some reason, this doesn’t seem to be a consideration by some who are in positions of high authority.

Campground at Warm Lake
Campground at Warm Lake

Summer Recreation

This is the season that recreation, especially OHV recreation, kicks into high gear. There is no better time to get the entire family out for a ride, visiting some of those special public lands, and just spending time together other than in front of the TV or playing computer games. The kids might initially resent you for dragging them outside, but it is those moments, many years into the future, that they will remember with fondness.

I remember one summer taking the entire family out to California and one of the things we did was ride up the coastal highway. It seemed the kids either slept or played computer games in the back seat the entire time, much to my annoyance. Now when they talk about that vacation, they talk about the scenic drive, the twisting road and “scary” drop-offs (their word). Their recollection is entirely different than mind. They actually enjoyed the trip and got something out of it to the point they are talking of someday making the same trip with their kids. Who would have thought…?

So, seize the moment. Take them for a ride in your ROV. Consider that long delayed camping trip. They are only young once and frankly, someday you won’t have the energy to manage them going in different directions all at the same time.

Happy summer!

Larry E. Smith
Executive Director
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)