Congress returns to Washington for the month of September with a full agenda ahead including the need to fund the federal government before the new fiscal year begins on October 1st. Of the thirteen separate appropriations measures requiring passage, none have been signed into law. The question is whether Congress passes a continuing resolution funding the government for a specific period of time, say until December 1st, or it decides to pass an omnibus appropriations measure whereby it combines all thirteen separate bills into one gigantic measure funding the government for the entire fiscal year. Congressional leaders are studying their playbook to see which drill has the best chance of passage, but they seem to be leaning towards a short term continuing resolution and just punting the big problem until the lame duck session. In any case, it is a dicey problem both politically as well as procedurally in terms of the legislative process. The short September session is going to be an interesting one; probably more politically charged than normal as both parties and the White House try to maneuver their way towards a resolution for funding the federal government.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to reopen OHV access to the Imperial Sand Dunes (in California) is in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and that the agency acted properly when considering how the plan would affect the Pierson’s milkvetch (FYI, it’s a plant). The Court’s decision affirmed a lower court ruling. The litigation filed by several environmental groups has dragged on for more than a decade. Their claims that the BLM plan also violated the Clean Air Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act as well as the Administrative Procedure Act were also dismissed.
This is a significant win for the OHV community. It means that OHV recreation has a healthy future at the Imperial Sand Dunes!
During August, northern Maine became the site of a new National Monument designated by President Obama under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Earlier in August, the federal government was in receipt of a very generous gift of 87,500 acres of the Maine woods by the co-founder of Burt’s Bees, Roxanne Quimby. Within just a few days of receiving title to these lands, President Obama whipped out the presidential pen and designated that new federal acreage as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
Leading up to the decision on the Monument designation, the issue had been hotly debated in Maine. Ms. Quimby had originally hoped that a national park would be established for this area. As she acquired different parcels of land from economically distressed timber companies, she was quite clear about her intentions. Almost from the beginning of taking title to the land she began to deny public access to her lands which was a reversal on how the timber companies managed the property. They allowed public access for hunting, fishing and snowmobiling as well as OHV recreation. Quimby’s anti-public access stance created a huge public relations problem for her in the state which later morphed into a political one. Some members of the Maine congressional delegation came out against the national park idea as did the Governor of Maine and the Maine State Legislature.
In time, she stepped away from leading the family foundation which held title to the Maine lands and turned it over to her son who soon opened some of the areas to public access in an attempt to temper the opposition though always maintaining the eventual goal of establishing a national park. Finally, realizing that Congress would not be embracing the park idea given the opposition of the Maine congressional delegation, the foundation and the Obama Administration decided to go to plan B; the designation of a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. By doing so, they successfully circumvented congressional opposition as well as that of the Maine state government.
To be fair, there are proponents in the state who believe that federal control will serve as an economic boost to an area that is in desperate need of an economic stimulus. Others fear that quality of life issues and the local economy could be diminished if access to fishing, hunting, snowmobiles and ATVs as well as timber harvesting were limited.
In addition to the gift of land for the National Monument, the foundation also gave $20 million to the federal government towards the cost of managing the new Monument as well as a promise of an additional $20 million at some point in the future. The National Park Service is the designated agency responsible for managing this new Monument and it will be developing a management plan governing recreational uses of these lands.
At some point, books will be written about Quimby’s failure to generate strong public support for the sizable donation of private land to the federal government due to her almost tone deaf attitude towards public access. Nonetheless, the Maine North Woods enters a new chapter and this time it will be under the control of the federal government. Whether Maine natives and their government officials come around to this idea, well, that is a story yet to be written.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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