Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) revealed that in a telephone conversation he had with President Trump, the President said he would be reducing the size of at least two existing National Monuments in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is major news!
At the moment, it is unclear as to the size of those reductions and when actually the President will sign the executive order making those changes. December seems to be the most likely time since the President has planned to visit Utah during that timeframe.
We expect that environmental groups will immediately challenge this action in court making the argument that the Antiquities Act of 1906 does not expressly give a President the authority to change a boundary of an existing National Monument. Their position will be that the Act only gives the authority to create National Monuments, not change them.
Digging back into history, we have found that seven Presidents have reduced the size of various National Monuments: Coolidge, Taft, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. Most of the modifications were minor in nature, though President Wilson did reduce the size of the Mount Olympus National Monument by more than 305,000 acres!
The upcoming legal battle over President Trump’s decision to change the boundaries of two National Monuments will be a major battle in Federal Court that will take months if not years to resolve.
The House Natural Resources Committee took an important step in October by approving legislation that would make major revisions to the Antiquities Act of 1906. The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.
H.R. 3990 places a cap of 85,000 acres on the size of a National Monument any President can designate. This would end million acre designations! Any designation ranging from 10,000 to 85,000 acres to become effective must first receive the approval of the counties, state legislatures and governors where the proposed National Monument is located. Also, if a President were to decide to reduce the existing size of a National Monument (greater than 85,000 acres), Congressional approval would be required.
Simply put, the designation of new National Monuments would no longer be a “Washington knows best” process but one that would involve those local and state governments where a designation is located.
We don’t know exactly when this bill will come up on the House floor, though the end of the year timeframe seems most likely. Therefore, it is critically important that ARRA members now reach out to their elected Representatives in the House to urge support for H. R. 3990. We have complained for a long time about what we believe have been abuses of the Antiquities Act by Presidents of both political parties. H.R. 3990 strikes the right balance in limiting the abuses in monument designations while retaining the need and flexibility in designating those areas that deserve special recognition and protection.
The House of Representatives approved legislation that would provide an additional $576 million for wildfire funding for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The money essentially reimburses those agencies for funds they borrowed from other agency accounts (i.e. recreation) in order to pay for expenses fighting wildfires in fiscal year 2017. For example, the Forest Service had an appropriation of just $1.8 billion for firefighting but ended up spending over $2.4 billion. Hence the need for this additional emergency appropriation.
The importance of this is best found in the example that the U. S. Forest Service set during the awful northern California wildfires. Even though little in the way of Forest Service land was affected by the wildfires, the Forest Service deployed more than 1500 firefighters, spent in excess of $6 million in supplies and used its firefighting aircraft to assist local and state government firefighting units in battling the blaze. This is a perfect example of government to government cooperation in a time of critical need.
We are finally seeing a concerted effort in both the House and the Senate to resolve the annual conundrum over funding firefighting efforts. We expect to see a final resolution soon that will treat the funding of wildfires similar to the way the federal government deals with other natural calamities such as hurricanes.
In our last newsletter we discussed the problem of unfilled executive positions in the Trump Administration especially from our perspective, in the Department of the Interior. In just the last three weeks we have seen some movement to correct this situation. A series of appointments has been made at the senior level, positions not requiring Senate confirmation, but positions just below that level. These are key executive positions for each agency so this is an encouraging development. Sadly, we are still waiting for individuals to be nominated to head up the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The National Park Service (NPS) has proposed increasing peak entrance fees for 17 of the most popular National Parks. The fee increase is in response to the growing backlog in maintenance costs for most sites under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The NPS believes this new peak fee structure will raise about $200 million to $268 million annually.
The proposed fee increases are scheduled to take place during the course of 2018. In the meantime, NPS is taking comments from the public on the proposed fee structure. That comment period ends November 23rd. If you would like to learn more and/or file your comments, please go to this link.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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