On the heels of establishing a new Recreation Advisory Committee (as we reported in last month’s newsletter), Secretary Ryan Zinke signed two secretarial orders to further his commitment to have the Department of the Interior (DOI) enhance its focus on outdoor recreation.
Secretarial Order 3366 directs certain agency bureaus to prepare within 90 days concrete plans on how to expand recreational opportunities on DOI’s lands and waterways. Talking about recreation is one thing, but putting talk into action is an entirely different thing. Secretary Zinke seems to have a laser focus on creating new recreation opportunities.
The other order, Secretarial Order 3365, establishes the position of Senior National Advisor to the Secretary for Recreation. The Secretary has named Rick May to that position. We have met with Rick and we can tell you he is a take charge type of guy, which is not a surprise given that he is a retired Navy Seal Captain and a decorated war veteran. In a sense, Rick has served in this position since he joined the department back in November of last year, but giving him this official recognition will go a long way towards furthering the direction the Secretary wants to take the Department in elevating the importance of recreation as a part of the agency’s mission. Finally, we can also report to you that Rick is a long-time motorcycle enthusiast, so he understands some of the impediments motorized recreation has faced in gaining access to federal lands.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) might be retiring at the end of the year, but he is aggressively leading the House National Resources Committee as Chairman. He recently steered the Recreation Not Red Tape Act through a committee mark-up and we expect the legislation to be up on the House floor sometime in the next few weeks.
The intent of the legislation is to lift some of the burdensome barriers to outdoor recreation by establishing a special recreation permitting process and by making it easier for visitors to purchase federal lands recreation passes. It also provides a new sense of accountability among federal land managers by making them responsible for increasing recreational opportunities in the areas they manage. This legislation dovetails perfectly with Secretarial Order 3366.
Finally, the legislation establishes a National Recreation Area System so that areas that possess remarkable recreational values are truly recognized and protected for these recreational purposes. We see this as potentially helping motorized recreation.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), making this a bi-partisan issue as outdoor recreation should be. We are anticipating strong bi-partisan support when the Bishop legislation comes up for a vote on the House floor and we are hoping that Senator Wyden’s bill will receive similar support in the Senate.
Earlier this year, the National Park Service (NPS) unveiled a new fee structure for admission to many of our most popular national parks. Public comments were solicited on the new fee structure, and boy did the Park Service get an earful. More than 100,000 comments were filed in opposition. The new fee structure would have doubled or in some cases tripled fees at 17 of our most popular national parks during the peak visitation period. To say that folks were unhappy with this proposal would be an understatement.
The Park Service has withdrawn its original proposal and is now going forward with a modified plan of making modest fee increases to the fees now charged at 117 park units. Those modest increases will be dedicated to chipping away at the looming NPS maintenance backlog.
I am sure there have been times when you have been asked to comment on a public policy issue and you have wondered whether your efforts would be worth it. Those doubts should now be put to rest given the experience with the NPS ill-fated fee increase. That proposal generated a firestorm of protest and at the end of the day, the agency thought it needed to make a change. Count this as a win for the American public.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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