New House Speaker
Paul D. Ryan (R-1st, Wis.) was elected as the 54th Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. This is the first time in almost one hundred years that someone not already in a leadership position has ascended to the Speaker’s chair. Ryan, a 19-year veteran of the House, has a challenging task ahead of him, and it will be interesting to see how long he can keep a unified Republican caucus. We aren’t placing any bets, but we are hoping for the best.
Recreational Trails Program
We have delayed the release of this newsletter awaiting word on House action on the transportation bill. We are into the home stretch in saving the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and the news is good. The House Transportation Committee decided to reauthorize the program and sent its bill to the House floor for action. Two amendments were then filed that would have stripped authorization of RTP. One amendment was withdrawn by its sponsor and the other amendment was ruled not in order for floor consideration. If all goes well, a final bill will be on the President’s desk just before the Thanksgiving holiday. If it happens as planned, we will all have another reason to be thankful.
A rewrite of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act has begun in the House Natural Resources Committee. A hearing was held to discuss a draft bill and we like what we saw in terms of some of the proposed changes to the program. One of the revisions would increase the amount of money that must remain at the site collected from 80% to 90% and limit the amount the agencies can siphon off for administrative overhead from 15% down to 5%. The current authorization for FLREA doesn’t expire until September 30, 2017, so we are pleased that reauthorization efforts have begun in earnest in both the House and the Senate.
Feinstein Desert Rally
In October, Senator Feinstein held a public meeting, attended by Administration officials and interested citizens, to receive public comment on her request to President Obama that he create three additional national monument areas in the California desert. The meeting was held in a tent up a dirt road in the Whitewater Preserve outside of Palm Springs. Public reports on attendance ranged from 700-1,000 people. The LA Times described the event as a “raucous tent hearing.” It was a hot day and tempers flared inside and outside the tent as proponents and opponents of the monument designations expressed their opinions.
Senator Feinstein, as a real professional, kept her cool as she attempted to preside over the meeting where tensions were high. She made it clear that she prefers a legislative solution rather than a presidential declaration, but that doing nothing is not an option. Our fear is that President Obama is just itching to use his presidential pen to sign yet another set of monument designations and that the California Desert is next in line. This drama certainly isn’t over and the focus now turns back to the Congress, for at least a little while. In the meantime, this is an especially good time to contact President Obama and Secretary Sally Jewell and express your opposition to a monument designation. Please click here if you would like to send such a message.
Two-year Budget Deal
One of Speaker Boehner’s priorities before leaving town was to find agreement on a budget deal. A two-year agreement was reached which will provide new spending ceilings. The resolution of this issue means that the Appropriations Committees will be doing new spending allocations for their subcommittees and this may very well mean that the public lands agencies might receive more funds than currently anticipated. FY16 appropriations must be completed by a deadline of December 11th of this year. We hope to have more to report on how the land agencies fared either in the December or January newsletters.
NOHVCC Annual Conference
Our colleagues at the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, NOHVCC, just completed their annual conference and celebrated their 25th Anniversary. This is a super group of people who do amazing work day in day out on the ground advocating for best practices in managing and building sustainable and exciting OHV trails. I always find that attending this annual conference is a way to recharge my batteries by spending time with folks from all over the country, and Canada, too, who make OHV recreation a priority in their own lives.
Congratulations to our NOHVCC friends!
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)