President Trump took the final step in nullifying the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) updated planning rule (2.0) when he signed H.J.Res.44. This planning rule was finalized in the closing days of the Obama Administration and caused quite a stir among many western states. So much so that six western states filed suit against the rule because they felt it would “severely impair their ability to work with BLM on future planning and management issues.”
2.0 was criticized as a Washington top down planning rule that would diminish the role of state and local governments in the land management process. Passage of H.J Res.44 by both the House and the Senate reflected this concern.
Secretary Zinke was present for the signing ceremony as were several state governors. For BLM it is now back to square one. No one knows exactly what the agency will do next in terms of rewriting a planning rule especially since they are still waiting for a new Director to be named. Meantime, Mike Nedd, a BLM career employee, has been named as Acting Director.
In our last newsletter we made reference to rumored budget cuts for FY 2018. We now have the numbers and they aren’t pretty. The Trump Administration is recommending that the Department of the Interior have a 12% cut, equaling $1.5 billion. The Department of Agriculture faces a 20% cut but we do not have any data as to how this will affect the Forest Service.
The budget proposal does seek to maintain wildfire expenditures based upon a ten year average for both the Forest Service and the Interior Department at a level of $2.4 billion. The Trump Administration’s budget proposal did not address moving wildfire costs out of the appropriations process into a catastrophic fund as proposed by many Senate and House members.
It is important to remember this is the White House’s budget proposal with only broad numbers. Details on the budget proposal will be forwarded to Congress in May. We think the President’s proposed budget for next year will undergo major change by Congress before it is finalized. Meanwhile, the present continuing resolution for FY 2017 funding expires on April 28th. Congress needs to take action to fund the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year that extends to September 30th. So before the Congress can deal with FY 2018, it needs to complete the job for FY 2017. As we write this newsletter, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working to finalize 2017 funding, but we think that at the end of the day, they will have to resort to another continuing resolution for the remainder of this fiscal year.
One positive sign about the proposed FY 2018 budget for Interior is the idea of private and public partnerships. One of the ideas identified is recreation grants though we are still waiting on what this all means. We don’t know how much money will be allocated or the scope of such grants, but this is something we will be monitoring closely.
Sonny Perdue’s nomination as the next Secretary of Agriculture was reported favorably by the Senate Agriculture Committee. No word as to when his nomination will actually be brought up for a Senate vote, but the issue of Neil Gorsuch’s nomination as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court may well delay any Senate consideration of Mr. Perdue’s nomination. We do not expect that a new Chief of the Forest Service will be named until Mr. Perdue has been sworn into office.
The issue of President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument continues to stir a lot of controversy. Dueling legal briefs on whether the President has the authority to modify or rescind the action of a previous President are being issued on a regular basis. No one really knows how President Trump is going to handle this issue. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Resources Committee, has said that he has asked to meet with the President to specifically discuss this issue. Secretary Zinke has said he is going to visit the Bears Ears region to seek the input of local citizens but the actual timing of that visit has not been announced.
Meanwhile, there is growing interest in the Congress to revisit the Antiquities Act and to modify in some way the authority the Congress delegated to the President back in 1906. We are in full agreement that this should be done. Reaching a consensus on how it should be done is the difficult part.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is coming under more heat given the fact that the Trump Administration has recommended cutting the program’s budget in FY 2018 from $247 million to $127 million. In response, more than 200 members of Congress have sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging more robust funding than what the President is seeking.
The argument against increased funding is that the federal government can’t take care of the land it currently owns so why acquire more? The Forest Service currently has a maintenance backlog of $5.2 billion and the National Park Service has a backlog of $12 billion. The argument for continued land acquisition is that there are parcels of land that merit further protection and that the federal government is best suited to provide that protection.
S.569, introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), would guarantee full annual funding of $900 million of LCWF. The legislation has little chance of passage. What is more likely, and something we strongly support, is a revamp of the LCWF program so that in addition to land acquisition, some of the funds can be directed towards reducing the maintenance backlog of our federal land agencies. This will be a legislative struggle throughout the 115th Congress.
The deadline for submitting nominations for the CRT Awards is fast approaching, April 13, 2017. The ARRA website has more information on how to submit your nominations.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)
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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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