That little chicken has been in the news lately. First, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced big news that it would no longer consider listing the greater sage grouse as “threatened” for the states of Nevada and California because of a very successful effort, both private and government led, to protect critically important habitat. The director of FWS called the effort “truly unprecedented.” I guess that isn’t an understatement given the fact that more than $45 million was spent to obtain easements on thousands of acres of privately owned land in an effort to conserve sagebrush habitat. In addition, the Forest Service is spending millions of dollars to eradicate juniper and pinion trees that provide launching pads for predators.
With Nevada and California off the FWS watch list, attention immediately swings to the other western states under the threat of a sage grouse listing. They seem to be waiting for the cavalry to ride to their rescue and in a sense that appears to be happening. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the current chairman of the House Resources Committee, very cleverly inserted language in the National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting the Fish and Wildlife Service until September 30, 2025, from making a finding that the sage grouse needs protection under the Endangered Species Act in any of the states that have developed conservation plans of their own to save the sage grouse. Whew!!! The environmental community is livid; the FWS is a little surprised; the Department of Defense says it didn’t ask for the language; and those states under the threat of the listing are breathing a little easier. Of course, the defense measure has to pass both houses of Congress and obtain the signature of President Obama, but those things will happen in due course. If the Bishop language survives the process, you can chalk up a major legislative victory for the former high school history teacher from Utah.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
During the last couple of weeks, the relevant committees in the House and Senate have held oversight hearings on the issue of reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (funding for the LWCF comes from royalties paid from offshore oil and gas production). The issue is a controversial one because many in Congress believe that the federal government is doing a poor job of caring for the lands that it already owns and therefore shouldn’t be acquiring news properties until the maintenance backlog is taken care of. Others believe it is critical that new land acquisitions be made as soon as possible and that the maintenance backlog issue shouldn’t be related to the LWCF program. Put ARRA down on the side that land acquisitions should be put on the back burner until the maintenance backlog has been tackled.
Some in Congress are supporting an effort to permanently reauthorize the program, something that is highly unlikely in the Republican controlled Congress. Our best guess is that the program will be reauthorized for a specific period of time but with instructions that some of the revenue must go towards maintenance projects. The current reauthorization expires September 30, 2015, so this is something that will need to be addressed sometime this summer or the program will expire.
FY 16 Appropriations
The Congress has begun to grind through the appropriations process and the news for the Interior Department and the Forest Service is not encouraging. Allocations are given to each subcommittee to use in funding the agencies under their jurisdiction. On the House side, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies saw its allocation cut about 1 percent below current funding levels. So, at a minimum, status quo funding will have to be cut and if one adds in the rate of inflation, it is likely that we will see both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management ending up with less money in FY 16 than they had in FY 15. When one adds in the unpredictability of the costs associated with the fire season, our fear is that we will see budgets for recreation programs cut even further.
S. 1040, The ROV In-Depth Examination Act
We have reported to you our frustration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) ill-conceived proposed rule on side-by-sides and the encouraging news that legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 999) that would require an unbiased, independent study by the National Academy of Sciences on the testing criteria used by CPSC when trying to promulgate a rule governing the design of these vehicles.
The issue is now getting attention in the U.S. Senate with the introduction of S. 1040, The ROV In-Depth Examination Act. The primary sponsors of this legislation are Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). This is a very important development in the overall legislative/regulatory process and we are urging all ARRA members to reach out to your Senators to request that they co-sponsor this legislation. If you haven’t already done so, we ask you to go this Action Alert (click here) so you can let your two Senators know how important this legislation is for motorized recreation.
Recreational Trails Program (RTP) Update
Authorization for transportation programs, including the Recreational Trails Program, ends on May 31st unless Congress extends the authorization. While we have been hoping all along for a long term authorization, it looks the best we can hope for now is another short term extension. Current rumors are that the short term extension will run through at least the end of September or possibly December, 2015. By the time of the next newsletter we will know for certain, but at this juncture we believe RTP is okay for at least the short term.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access