Washington Newsletter – June 2017

A Senate Budget Committee staff member pages through a copy of President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Federal Budget

While President Trump was on his 9 day international trip, his Administration released its budget for FY 2018 and the best way to describe how it was received on Capitol Hill is probably summed up by the comments of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).  He said “this budget was dead on arrival even before the ink was dry” on the document.  And while he is probably correct, the size of some of the proposed cuts for a number of the agencies, including the land agencies, provides for a lot of concern.

Here’s a snapshot of what we are talking about:

  • Department of the Interior cut by 11% – $1.6 billion. (FY 2018 $11.5 billion vs. $13.1 billion in FY 2017)
  • BLM Recreation budget cut by $9 million (FY 2018 $62.7 million vs. $71.7 million in FY 2017)
  • Forest Service Trails cut by $64.8 million (FY 2018 $12.7 million vs. $77.5 in FY2017)
  • Forest Service Recreation cut by $11.7 million (FY 2018 $252.9 million vs. $264.6 in FY 2017)
  • National Park Service reduced by $200 million (FY 2018 $2.225 billion vs. $2.425 in FY 2018)
  • BLM Recreation cut by $9 million (FY 2018 $62.7 million vs $71.7 million in FY 2017)
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund cut by $139 million (FY 2017 $51 million vs. $189 million in FY 2017)

Right now we have the numbers, but we still don’t know what this all means for the programs on the ground.  More information will be forthcoming during the congressional hearing process.  Clearly a number of jobs at the local level will be affected since more than 4,000 jobs will be eliminated at Interior if the FY 2018 proposal is approved.  Secretary Zinke has suggested that personnel from Washington headquarters and regional offices would be dispatched to local offices to make up staffing deficiencies, as needed.  Potentially, the proposed cuts in the Forest Service trails budget would have a serious impact on recreation, but the numbers don’t break down as to the type of recreation affected.

Now the hard part is left to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees as they try to cobble together an overall spending plan that will be acceptable to the White House while minimizing some of the huge cuts being sought by the Administration.  In terms of the process, the committees are already two months or so behind schedule because of their work in completing FY 2017 funding, as we reported in our last newsletter.  Another wrinkle in terms of the congressional calendar is the possibility that the Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling BEFORE the August recess.  This is new news because the Hill was operating on the assumption that the debt ceiling issue would be handled sometime in the fall.

In the months ahead, we will be discussing more about these proposed cuts and how the Hill is handling the challenge of this new budget proposal.  Access to public lands could be seriously affected, but at this juncture we just don’t know how.

Secretary Zinke Visits Utah

As he promised during his confirmation hearings, Secretary Zinke traveled to Utah for a first-hand look at the Bears Ears National Monument and to talk to various stakeholders affected by the decision to create this new National Monument.  The Secretary spent a total of 4 days in the state with meetings and visits to both Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument.

The Department also had requested public comment on the Bears Ears National Monument and ARRA, in coordination with a number of other national motorized recreation groups, submitted comments in support of Secretary Zinke’s review.  Our comments urged that the Monument designation be rescinded or limited to only the acreage that truly complies with the Antiquities Act in that it not exceed the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.  “This enormous swath of public land should be managed for suitable multiple uses including motorized recreation as appropriate and the citizens most affected by land use decisions – those who live, recreate and make their livelihoods on or near Bears Ears – should have a greater voice and more meaningful opportunities to provide input.”

There has been a lot of speculation as to what the Secretary will recommend to the President regarding the Bears Ears designation.  Boundary modification seems like a possible outcome, but no one knows for sure.  Current thought is that the recommendation will be forthcoming by June 10th.

Once he completes his review of Bears Ears, Secretary Zinke will turn his attention to the remaining 26 sites that President Trump wants reviewed for possible modifications.  This review needs to be completed and sent to the President by August 24th.

Wildfire Hearing

The House Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands recently held a hearing on the growing threat of wildfires on federal lands.  A couple of statistics stood out to us.  The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of mostly forested areas in 43 states and Puerto Rico.  58 million of those acres are at high or very high risk of severe wildfire.

Insect infestations resulting in the killing of millions of trees is adding to the wildfire risk.  In the Rocky Mountain region, the bark beetle outbreak since the mid-1990s has impacted more than 116 million acres.  The bark beetle outbreak in the Southern Appalachian Mountains has impacted more than a million acres with an economic loss exceeding more than one billion dollars.  Finally, the Forest Service has estimated that in California alone, more than 102 million trees across more than 7.7 million acres have died since 2010.

The Trump FY 2018 budget does include $354 million for hazardous fuel treatments (thinning) and funds for wildfire management between BLM and the Forest Service basically remain the same as the previous year, which in this budget climate has to be taken as good news.  But unless commercial timber harvesting is also increased, these other efforts by the agencies to minimize the threat will not be enough.  Outdoor recreation is threatened every time there is a wildfire and that impact can last for generations until the land can heal itself from the devastation.

Photo Above: Olympic NP firefighters assisting on a fire in LaGrande, OR. Photo by NPS

A rider gets ready to hit the trail, Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Texas. Photo by NPS

OHV Experience Survey

Many of you have participated in the recent ARRA survey on motorized recreation.  For those of you who have done so, many thanks.  For those of you who haven’t, there is still time.  You can do so by going to this link.

We are still compiling the stats from the survey, but a couple of early numbers caught my attention.  A little more than 87% of the respondents say they recreate on public lands with the remaining 13% on private lands.  More than 41% of the respondents recreate in the Western part of the U.S., almost 30% in the Southwest, 17% in Pacific Northwest and 17% in the Midwest.  Given this usage pattern by OHV enthusiasts, our concern about wildfires is all the more relevant in what it could mean for motorized recreation.

Sincerely,

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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