As I prepare an outline for this month’s newsletter, the news is playing in the background with an update on the passage of Hurricane Harvey through Texas and now Louisiana. Upwards of 50 inches of rain has fallen in some areas of Houston. Simply unimaginable except for those who have had to wade through the water to find a point of safety.
There is so much suffering for people of all ages. This storm hasn’t been choosey on which neighborhoods to inundate with high water. Private homes, hospitals, nursing homes and schools have all been flooded. The first responders are performing heroically, but the plea for help has been so overwhelming that Houston city officials have called on private citizens with boats to help in the rescue effort.
The ‘Cajun Navy,” a group of private citizens from Louisiana, have driven to Texas with their recreational boats attached to their trucks, to lend a hand to the first responders in rescuing people at such a critical time. Heartwarming examples of neighbors helping each other in a time of need.
Financial Challenges Generate Heat
This isn’t about the weather, but rather the political temperature of things to come in the Nation’s Capital and the serious financial challenges that lie ahead. We have been anticipating a difficult time in September given the fact that the new fiscal year begins on October 1st and the appropriations process to fund the federal government is far from complete. Congress will have to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide short term funding for federal agencies until more permanent decisions can be made on funding levels. Also looming is the need to raise the debt ceiling no later than the 2nd week of October, an issue that could be very controversial, as it has in the past.
Also scheduled to expire on September 30th is the National Flood Insurance Program. Given the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, the extension of this program will be given a high priority as will the need to increase the amount of money the program can borrow from the federal treasury in times of a national emergency. We can foresee a scenario where reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program will be included in the CR that the Congress must pass. We also wouldn’t be surprised if the debt ceiling issue is also included in the CR. The Congress reconvenes on September 5, so the actual makeup of a CR has yet to be determined. Political temperatures will rise, but in the end, the need to help the people of Texas and Louisiana will drive the Congress to reach a compromise and get the job done.
New Chief of the Forest Service
The current chief, Tom Tidwell, is retiring after 40 years of service at the Forest Service. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that he would be appointing Tony Tooke, the regional forester for the Southern Region, to replace Tidwell as the new chief of the agency.
Several years ago, Tooke managed the Forest Service’s new planning rule effort. We were actively involved in the process making the case that recreation needed to be made a much higher priority for the agency. The initial draft plan was totally devoid of any mention of the concept of public recreation on Forest Service land. A lot of recreation advocates, including ARRA, made a strong case that this had to change, and Tooke was responsible for elevating recreation to a position of prominence in the final plan.
He brings a lot of experience to the job. Given the severe financial strain the agency is under particularly with the ongoing threat of wildfires, he has a lot of challenges ahead. He’s the right guy to lead this agency at this time.
National Monument Recommendations
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted his recommendations to the President after completing a review of National Monument designations. While we know the recommendations were submitted to the White House, the details are sketchy at best. What is known is that Zinke did not recommend the revocation of any existing National Monument designations but that he has suggested some boundary adjustments to some monuments. He specifically mentioned earlier that the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah would be one of those slated for a boundary adjustment.
The full extent of the Secretary’s recommendations are unlikely to be known for certain until after the President makes his final decisions. We hope that by the next newsletter we will have more to report.
Department of the Interior Reorganization (DOI)
Secretary Zinke is apparently giving serious thought to moving the headquarters of three DOI agencies out of Washington and closer to the public lands they manage. Denver seems to be the likely site for the relocation. The Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation are the agencies affected. There is already some opposition being generated against this move though Zinke will likely maintain that this is a part of an overall effort to streamline and make the department more efficient and effective in fulfilling its responsibilities. We are awaiting a final decision from the Secretary on this reorganization plan. Depending upon the scope, it’s possible the Congress will get involved before the plan can be implemented.
NOHVCC Annual Conference
The National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) just completed its annual conference, held this year in Manchester, New Hampshire. ARRA tries to participate in these annual conferences because it is always important to be reminded of NOHVCC’s ongoing efforts to encourage the creation of sustainable OHV trails on private, state and federal lands. OHV enthusiasts, state and federal land managers and OHV industry representatives gathered for several days to exchange the latest information on how to get more Americans connected to the great outdoors in a safe and sustainable fashion. NOHVCC does a great job of facilitating the exchange of ideas and in fostering cooperation among a variety of entities and this conference was no exception.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access