More Monument Designations
The presidential pen created three more National Monuments, this time in the California desert. Largely at the behest of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), President Obama made the designation while on a mid-February trip to California.
The acreage for these new monument designations totaled in excess of 1.8 million acres. When added to other areas of the desert currently preserved in national parks or in wilderness areas, more than 10 million acres of the California desert will now receive special protection under federal law.
For the last seven years, Senator Feinstein worked on comprehensive legislation, S. 414, governing a variety of uses and protection of the California desert. She finally lost patience with the slow pace of the legislative process and turned to President Obama for relief by asking him to use the Antiquities Act to designate these new National Monuments. (See a related article in the November, 2015 issue of the ARRA newsletter) For the record, she encountered difficulties with her legislation when both the Democrats and the Republicans were in control of the Senate so this has not been a partisan issue. Rather, there has been controversy surrounding some the original provisions in her bill having to do with energy development and mineral extraction in the desert.
From our perspective, the Senator’s bill also permanently protected five separate OHV riding areas in the California desert so we have had a strong interest in her legislation. We feared that once the monument areas were created, she would lose interest in pursuing the other provisions through the legislative process. We are pleased to report that this has not turned out to be the case. Rather on February 23rd, she introduced S. 2568, the California Desert Conservation, Off-Road Recreation and Renewable Energy Act. This new legislation includes those five OHV recreation areas I mentioned previously.
On the House side, Rep. Paul Cook (R-8 CA) is in the process of revising his desert legislation to reflect these new monument areas. The Cook legislation also includes creating OHV recreation areas. We will continue to work closely with both the Feinstein and the Cook offices in an effort to create momentum for their desert management initiatives.
BLM Proposed Rule on Resource Management Plans
We have been waiting for this to happen; it was just a matter of time. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it is a step closer in finalizing a rule governing the creation of Resource Management Plans (RPMs) for the more than 245 million acres of public lands under its jurisdiction. The rule will specify a process for developing, amending and revising RMPs in a way the Bureau hopes is more efficient and timely. The current intent is to have the rule signed, sealed and delivered by the end of the year just before the final days of the Obama Administration.
We think there is something to be said for making the process more efficient. BLM hopes that the new process will help it become more agile when responding to changing circumstances on the ground. Our worry stems from the underlying premise that BLM lands should be managed from a landscape-level perspective, meaning that the agency should not only look at how it is managing its own land, but what is happening also on privately held and state owned land adjacent to federal lands. There are a lot of unknown ramifications to this approach with concerns that Uncle Sam maybe reaching beyond what it already owns. If we are lucky, these concerns will prove to be unwarranted. If we are not, then it could be too late if federal mitigation efforts affect access to federal lands.
In terms of next steps, the proposed rule was printed in the Federal Register on February 25th so public comments must be filed by April 25th. After a review of those comments, it is possible that BLM will make some final adjustment to the rule before making it final by the end of the year.
By the Numbers
As we reported in our last newsletter, the President has submitted his final proposed budget to the Congress. Hearings have already begun with Cabinet members trudging up to Capitol Hill to appear before congressional committees to defend what the President has submitted. And quite often the discussions in these committee hearings will veer off from talking about the actual numbers into policy issues.
Recently Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her prepared testimony provided an overview of the budget submission for the Department of the Interior which is standard fare. The fun always begins during the question and answer period. Secretary Jewell was asked what other National Monument designations were in the works before the end of the Obama Administration. Her response was that she was unaware of any and besides it was up to the President to decide. Unspoken was the message that if she knew, she wasn’t going to tell. Only time will tell…
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)