Congress spent much of January getting itself organized. This means appointing committee members and subcommittee members as well as adopting procedural rules for each committee. This process also involves hiring new staff for the various committees.
Of particular interest to us is the fact that Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) is the new chairman of the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands, formerly known the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. (We prefer the new name.) We have worked with Rep. McClintock and his staff on a number of issues over the years and believe he has a very good understanding of our issues. He replaces Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah)as subcommittee chair since Rep. Bishop has moved up to become the Chairman of the full committee. With Chairman Bishop and Subcommittee Chair McClintock, the House Resources Committee has a strong team of leaders in place and we look forward to active engagement with them over the course of the next two years.
Fire Suppression Funding
One of our disappointments in the last session was the fact that Congress did not approve H.R. 3992, legislation that would provide for the establishment of a separate fund to cover the cost of fighting wildfires. The establishment of such a fund would end the process by which the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management must reprogram funds from other departmental activities in order to fund the deficit in the wildfire accounts during times when the forest fire season is costly. Our interest stems from the fact that the recreation budget for both agencies always gets squeezed when the wildfire accounts run out of money.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) introduced the legislation in the last session and that measure had 140 co-sponsors. Rep. Simpson and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore) have re-introduced the legislation, H.R. 167, in this session. It has already gained 45 co-sponsors and we expect more will join in the coming weeks. The Western Governors’ Association endorsed this concept back in June and we remain hopeful that there will be a real push in this Congress to move this legislation across the finish line.
The Obama Administration continues its pace of reshaping how our public lands are managed. Monument designations continue, but the latest, most far reaching executive decision has to do with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (ANWR). The Administration just announced that it will begin managing an additional 12 million acres of the refuge as if wilderness. Congress had previously designated 7 million acres of this refuge as wilderness.
This new move by the Administration effectively removes those twelve million acres from any development for the foreseeable future. While the environmental community was very pleased with this action, the reaction of Alaska’s congressional delegation was very critical. So much so that any degree of comity between Secretary of the Interior Jewell and the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), could be permanently damaged. Secretary Jewell may have already calculated that little can be accomplished between her department and the Republican controlled Congress, but the ANWR decision will only make this all the more likely.
In the months ahead, we are anticipating that the President will continue taking similar steps with regards to federal lands in terms of designating additional Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) as well as National Monument designations under the Antiquities’ Act. With almost every action, access for motorized recreation is adversely affected.
Forest Service Snowmobile Regulation
The Forest Service has issued its final rule governing the use of snowmobiles. Less onerous that the Travel Management Rule covering off-highway vehicles, the rule, nonetheless, will require the various national forests to determine a policy governing snowmobile use on the lands under its jurisdiction.
In the event you are stranded by a snow storm and can’t escape your home because you don’t have a snowmobile, but want to learn more about this new rule, please go to this link. www.gpo..gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-01-28/pdf/2015-01573.pdf
Symbolic Votes on Monument Designations, Lesser Prairie Chicken and Wilderness Designations
During the three week Senate debate on the Keystone pipeline issue, a number of amendments were offered having to do with monument designations, the removal of the lesser prairie chicken from the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and the multiple use designation of certain federal lands. In every case, these amendments received at least 50 votes or more, but all fell short of the 60 vote margin required for inclusion with the pipeline legislation. Given the fact that the President had already indicated he would veto the pipeline legislation, votes on these issues were really symbolic in nature. However, the value of offering these issues up for a vote in the Senate is that we now have the Senate on record. We now know the supporters and the opponents on each issue. We have already begun to reach out to some of those Senate offices where we have a different view on certain issues. One can only hope…
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)