Washington Newsletter – September 2015

Hatfield-McCoy Trails

Photo Credit: From RiderPlanet USA “Hatfield-McCoy Trails” webpage.

It’s All about the Numbers

We are a society driven by numbers.  We use them to serve as benchmarks on how much we have done or failed to do.

It might be how many miles ridden on an ATV or driven in a ROV over a weekend.  It might be how much weight lost or gained!  It might be how much the family budget was exceeded for that summer vacation.  It might be the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  But the ultimate numbers game comes down to election results and this becomes even more of an obsession as we approach the 2016 election season.  Numbers are predictors of what we might do in the future based upon what we have done in the past.  And, depending upon what we did in the past, our future might be shaped in a positive or a negative way.

Wildfires

This has been an ugly and devastating summer for wildfires.  Let’s look at the numbers.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of August 26th:

  • Year to date, more than 42,820 wildfires have burned more than 7.6 million acres of land.
  • 7.6 million acres burned is a 10 year high with even more acres being destroyed with active fires still burning in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
  • According to the Bureau of Land Management, more than 250,000 acres of critical Sage Grouse habitat was destroyed in Idaho alone.  The agency is calculating similar damage in other states.
  • The National Interagency Fire Center has mobilized fire fighting forces from the entire U.S. as well as Canada to fight the western wildfires.  The U. S. Army has been deployed to provide support and firefighters from New Zealand and Australia have joined the fire lines!
  • Chief Tom Tidwell, U.S. Forest Service, orders agency freeze in non-fire spending and tells staff to be prepared to shift upwards to $450 million in non-fire programs to cover the cost of fighting the wildfires.
  • Recreational trails, including OHV trails, have been damaged with assessment to take place after the fire fighting season is over.

 

In sum, the numbers are grim.

Congressional Agenda

Congress returns from the August recess with a daunting agenda for the next two months.  We discussed that laundry list in our last newsletter.  With only about 20 legislative days (give or take a couple of days) available in this period, it is hard to imagine how they can get done what needs to be done.  It will be like cramming for final exams…too much to do in too little time.

Appropriations for the new fiscal year beginning October 1st is top on the “to do” list.  Our best guess is that a continuing resolution (CR) will need to be passed sometime before the end of September so that the federal agencies can be funded on a temporary basis until work on permanent funding can be completed.  The only certainty at this stage is the uncertainty of the moment.  What is certain is that September 30th is fast approaching when the federal government will not have any more money to operate.  What is uncertain is how the Congress will deal with this deadline.  As we said, it all comes down to the numbers.

October is the month for action on transportation reauthorization, including the Recreational Trails Program.  We will hold off saying more about that subject until after we have gotten through the month of September.

LWCF

There is lot of pressure to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund since its current authorization expires on September 30th.   In July, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reached a bi-partisan agreement on legislation to reauthorize the program.  The House Resources Committee plans to delve into the issue sometime this fall and we are hoping that they make some major reforms to the program.  As we have said previously, we have a problem with the federal government acquiring additional property when it can’t take care of what it already owns.

LWCF is funded from royalties paid on off shore oil and gas production.  Monies can be used for the acquisition of additional lands for the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service as well as national wildlife refuge properties.  The Act also authorizes that funds can be provided to the states for outdoor recreation planning as well as the acquisition of lands and waters for recreational purposes.  In recent years, the Congress has only permitted expenditures far less than the $900 million ceiling authorized by the original act.

We would like to see some of the LWCF funds dedicated to chipping away at the maintenance backlog for public lands.  We are hoping that the House Resources Committee will take this approach.

We do not anticipate that the program will be reauthorized by the September 30th deadline, so some sort of temporary authorization will be needed and the appropriation process is one vehicle that could be used for that purpose.  Getting a more permanent reauthorization is likely to take the rest of this year and possibly well into 2016.

National Monuments

The national monument issue keeps popping up left and right. The drumbeat for more designations got noticeably louder when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote to President Obama in early August with a plea that he designate more than 1 million acres in California in three separate national monument designations.  Senator Feinstein has been working on legislation that would protect these areas as well as permanently establish an important OHV recreation area in the California desert.  Apparently she wrote to the President requesting the monument designations at the bequest of some conservation groups.  ARRA and our partners will continue to work hard to make sure responsible OHV recreation in this area is protected, and will call on you to have your voice heard at the appropriate time.  Stay tuned!

Hatfield-McCoy Trails

Photo Credit: From RiderPlanet USA “Hatfield-McCoy Trails” webpage.

Labor Day

The last big summer holiday weekend comes late this year.  Many in the west will probably choose to stay indoors because of all the air pollution from the wildfires.  Nonetheless, we are hoping people can get out to their favorite trails, if at all possible.  We have featured in this newsletter two photographs from the famous Hatfield-McCoy OHV trail system in West Virginia.  With more than 700 miles of OHV trails and growing, this system has proven to be an economic miracle for many rural counties in West Virginia.  If you are in the area, make sure to put the Hatfield-McCoy trail system on your OHV “to do” list.

Larry E. Smith
Executive Director
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)

About ARRA

Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA) was formed to ensure that Americans are not arbitrarily denied the right to responsibly experience and enjoy the public lands that belong to the citizens of the United States. The members of ARRA, which include horseback riders, personal watercraft users, off-highway vehicle and snowmobile riders, and vacationing families, have joined together to provide input on decisions regarding land use designation, recreation opportunities, and preservation. Its members seek responsible consideration of competing activities, which are based on sound environmental principles.

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