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News and information from ARRA - Americans for Responsible Recreation Access

John Stewart

ARRA Washington Newsletter - June 2010

Monumental Problems for the Department of the Interior

While the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has diverted a lot of press attention away from the Monument designation controversy, the issue remains alive and will continue to dog the Secretary of the Interior until all documents surrounding these "brainstorming sessions" are released to the Congress. Last month, we sent out a special ARRA news bulletin on this very issue and we included some of the documents released by the department. We also asked some pointed questions about what has not been disclosed.

Special ARRA News Bulletin on H. Res. 1254.

On May 25th, Reps. Hastings and Bishop wrote Secretary Salazar a letter requesting that he bring the missing documents when he testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on the very next day. The Secretary chose not to do so. This led the two congressmen to introduce on May 27 a second Resolution of Inquiry that, if passed by the full House of Representatives, would require the Department of the Interior to turn over to the House the documents in question. We anticipate the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on H. Res. 1406 sometime in June. We will soon be asking ARRA members to contact their Representatives to seek support for the Resolution.

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John Stewart

ARRA Washington Newsletter - January 2011

The Lame Duck that Wasn't Lame
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I previously said that Lame Duck sessions historically have achieved very little in the way of legislative accomplishments. Well, the Lame Duck session for the 111th Congress proved to be the very opposite with the passage of the Bush tax cuts, unemployment benefit extensions, food safety legislation, the START treaty with Russia, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and medical benefits for 9/11 rescue workers. In other words, we saw a flurry of activity and a lot of bi-partisan cooperation.

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John Stewart

ARRA Washington Newsletter - February, 2011

The other "cloud" hanging over the new Congress is the issue of the federal budget.  The Congressional Budget Office has just released its estimate of the federal deficit for FY2012 and it comes in at a whopping $1.5 trillion.  Despite the President's proposed budget cuts as well as those suggested by some Republicans, those cuts don't go far enough in putting a major dent in the projected deficit.

FY 2011, FY2012 and Rethinking Government
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The President is scheduled to release his FY 12 budget by mid-February.  The speculation is that many agencies will be faced with budget cuts.  But even before the Congress turns its attention to the 2012 fiscal year, it must first decide what to do with the unfinished business of FY 2011.  Currently the federal government is funded by a continuing resolution through March 4th.   Some Republicans are calling for $100 billion in cuts to discretionary, non-security programs, but five months into the fiscal year, it is almost impossible to cram $100 billion in cuts into the remaining 7 months.

Even once the FY 11 dilemma is resolved, FY 2012 is going to require some serious soul searching about the role of government. Playing musical chairs with government agencies is going to be an idea that will gain traction as future budget savings are harder to identify. The old ways of managing will not provide the necessary savings. The issues we care about - recreational access to public lands, how our public lands are managed and by whom - will eventually become issues that Congress and the Executive Branch will have to grapple with. Keeping the old lines of agency jurisdictions that go back for over a hundred years might not be a valid reason for maintaining the status quo. This being the case, the roles of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture will likely go under the microscope for reevaluation.

Federal land agencies along with other federal agencies will have their budgets reduced. A 5% cut for some of the land agencies is being bandied about but we will have to wait until the release of the President's FY12 budget to know for sure. Determining which programs to cut and which ones to spare will become a political battle that will be waged in the Congress. How recreation is treated as a funding issue will be of concern to us. If our struggle with the crafting of a new Forest Service Planning Rule these past eighteen months is any indication of what we face, we will have our work cut out for us.

Short Takes:
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* Recreational Trails Program
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has announced that his committee will begin a process of crafting a new multi-year surface transportation bill.  In mid-February, he hopes to begin a series of field hearings or listening sessions outside of Washington to gather citizen input on what should be included in the bill.  ARRA will let you know when and where these sessions are being held so you can attend and talk about the merits of continuing the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).

* America's Great Outdoors Initiative
Remember the AGO program that was announced with great fanfare back in April, 2010, at a White House Conference?  Remember that President Obama ordered that the recommendations from this initiative were to be delivered on his desk by November 15, 2010?  Well, we hear through the grapevine that the AGO report is now complete; and that warring factions within the Administration were finally able to come to closure on the recommendations.  Public release of the AGO findings are now scheduled for mid-February.  Stay tuned...

* Forest Service Planning Rule
Late February appears to be the target when the Forest Service will be releasing its draft Planning Rule.  Once it is officially published in the Federal Register, we will all have 60 days to file our comments on the draft.  We are being told that "recreation" will receive its due and we certainly hope that will be the case.  We reserve judgment until we actually read the draft.  It's encouraging to know that the Congress will be closely reviewing the draft as well.

* Salazar's Wild Lands Policy
Secretary Salazar's new "wild lands policy" is drawing fire from many western members of Congress.  Forty-eight House members and eight Senators wrote to the Secretary on January 28th requesting that he withdraw his Secretarial Order 3310.  ARRA supports this idea terminating the "wild lands policy." Read the Hill letter to Secretary Salazar in full on the ARRA website


Sincerely,

Larry E. Smith
Executive Director
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access

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John Stewart

ARRA Newsletter - September 2008

Presidential Politics
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It's Obama/Biden vs. McCain/Palin. The 2008 marathon nominating process for presidential candidates is finally over. Our attention now turns to the November general elections. We all may have our favorite candidate or political party and although we may get tired of watching the political pundits on television, it is exciting that we get to choose our leaders. The political process is ours. Washington, that city most politicians love to run against is our national capital. And those we send to Washington to serve in our government are, in fact, our representatives.


Sometimes, the national electorate decides to throw the bums out and start over, and sometimes, the decision is to stay the course. But, whatever the result, the decision always rests with the people of this nation. Our democratic process has evolved much over 230 years. We are a far different nation than the one created back in 1776. What has remained constant and has grown in strength is the concept that the common citizen, you and I, decides who will succeed or fail at the ballot box. That's an awesome responsibility we share.

The next Administration and Congress will face some daunting problems. In this newsletter, we will touch on some of those issues relating to outdoor recreation and OHV recreation in particular. It's not the first time you have heard about these issues nor will it be the last time. Looking into 2009, I am convinced more than ever that we have our work cut out for us.

Recreational Trails Program Under Attack
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In the April newsletter, we wrote about the coming reauthorization of the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and the challenges we face in getting this done. Those stakes recently became even higher when the current Secretary of Transportation, Mary E. Peters, released recommendations to the Congress on the need to restructure and reform federal funding of transportation projects. Secretary Peters said, "Without a doubt, our federal approach to transportation is broken. It is time for a new, a different and better approach." Part of the Secretary's "new and better" approach is to recommend the cancellation of the Recreational Trails Program.

We don't underestimate the need to restructure our highway funding mechanisms, but eliminating the Recreational Trails Program, a program with an annual budget of $80 million, isn't going to solve Secretary Peters' concerns about an aging interstate highway system. For example, it's going to cost $234 million to replace the bridge that collapsed over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. If Secretary Peters gets her way, a very important and successful program that builds trails for hikers, bikers, and OHV enthusiasts would bite the dust, all in an attempt to put a little more money into highway construction. $80 million doesn't go very far in funding highway construction but it can do an amazing amount of work in building recreational trails. This is one reform idea we need to make sure is dead on arrival when it comes before the next Congress. In the coming months, you can join us in the fight to save RTP.

Budget Woes Fighting Forest Fires
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This fire season has been particularly tough for areas like California. Fire suppression costs (that's a bureaucratic term for fighting forest fires) will exceed the 2008 budget by more than $400 million. Unless Congress provides the Forest Service with more money, it will have no other choice but to cut funding for other programs such as recreation, funding the implementation of the Travel Management Rule and the acquisition of paper clips. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating about the paper clips, but things are dire and programs across the board are feeling the impact of these budget cuts.

Over the past ten years, fire suppression costs for the Forest Service have grown dramatically to the point that approximately 48% of the total budget of the Forest Service goes towards firing fires. Many factors contribute to creating an environment for deadly forest fires including prolonged drought conditions, climate change, housing developments built too close to national forests, and the change in forest management techniques including the decline in timber harvests. It's an unfortunate fact that during the past two decades, our national forests have become kindling just waiting for any spark to ignite them with deadly results. Fighting fires means the Forest Service has little time or funds to attend to other important core mission responsibilities such as providing expanded opportunities for recreational activities.

There has to be a better way in terms of funding "fire suppression costs." Recently, the House of Representatives passed H. R. 5541, the Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement Act or FLAME Act. The FLAME Act (appropriately named) would establish a separate fund (the FLAME Fund) for catastrophic, emergency wildland fire suppression activities. Call it a rainy day fund, if you will, since it would be an account established at the Department of the Treasury that could be tapped when annually appropriated funds are insufficient to meet this need in any given year. The existence of the FLAME Fund would mean that the Forest Service would no longer have to borrow money from other existing Forest Service accounts when its fire suppression accounts were depleted.

H.R. 5541 has now been sent to the U. S. Senate and is pending before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The Senate still has time this session to take a responsible step by passing this legislation so that by the time the next fire season rolls around, the FLAME Fund would be available. If you are interested in contacting your Senators about this important legislation, please visit the ARRA website.

Johnson Valley OHV Area Threatened
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The OHV community has known for some time that the Marine Corps was looking to expand its training operations into the existing Johnson Valley OHV area, one of the premier OHV recreation areas in the country, just east of Los Angeles (San Bernardino County). Well, the other shoe dropped on August 13th when the Marine Corps filed the necessary paperwork with the Bureau of Land Management requesting that approximately 421,270 acres of land be withdrawn from public use and eventually designated for the exclusive use of the Marine Corps for training exercises "in the interest of Homeland Defense and the War on Terrorism."

Because of the size of the land transfer, approval of this request requires action by the Congress. For those of you not familiar with Johnson Valley, this is the largest open OHV area in the country, 189,000 acres to be exact. The possible closure of this area to OHV recreation could have a devastating impact on OHV recreation in southern California.

The review process for considering the Marine Corps request has just begun. Until a final decision has been made, OHV recreation will continue to be allowed in the Johnson Valley area. OHV leaders in southern California are working to identify potential alternative sites for OHV use in the event Congress approves the transfer from the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management to the Marine Corps. ARRA will keep you informed on further
developments

Congress Returns to Washington
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On September 8th, the Congress will return to Washington in an effort to try and clean up its legislative agenda before adjourning for the November elections. Top on the list of must pass legislation is the funding of the federal government for FY09, which begins on October 1st. As we reported earlier, a massive continuing resolution seems the most likely scenario. Partisan gridlock is likely to prevent much else from happening, though we believe that work on a focused energy program is desperately needed. Other than possibly a symbolic vote by the House of Representatives on the off-shore drilling issue, we don't expect to see real action until the new Congress and the new Administration take office in January, 2009.

Meanwhile, gas prices and the price of heating oil will remain high affecting the overall economy and the pocketbooks of those Americans who are least able to afford high energy costs, senior citizens on fixed incomes and poor and middle class families. The political gridlock must come to an end if we are going to have a comprehensive energy policy that gets our country back to a position of energy independence. Without it, our economy will continue to lag behind and Americans won't be able to afford some of the more pleasant aspects of life, like visiting their
favorite public lands.

National Public Lands Day
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September 27th is National Public Lands Day. Despite the high cost of gas, please make a point to go to your favorite forest or park and participate in a variety of activities to care for the lands we all love. Last year, more than 100,000 volunteers worked in 1,300 locations on various conservation and
improvement projects. Project organizers are hoping that this year's participation will exceed last year's impressive turnout.

You can find a volunteer activity near you by going to the National Public Lands Day network calendar: http://www.publiclandsday.org/calendar/search

Sincerely,

Larry E. Smith
Executive Director
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access

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John Stewart

ARRA Newsletter - November 2008

We will have to wait and see who the President-elect nominates to head up the Department of Agriculture (Forest Service) and the Department of the Interior (BLM and the National Park Service) to get a sense of the philosophical bent of his federal land managers. I think there is no question that OHV recreation will be on the defensive more than ever, and our approach to responsible recreation and stronger enforcement will be all the more important in the coming years. I remain optimistic that OHV recreation has a good story to tell. I also know that the burden will be on us to tell that story to the Congress and to the policymakers of the Obama Administration if we want to keep our access to federal lands.

We have to acknowledge that Obama was elected to office, in part, by people who generally are not considered OHV enthusiasts. We should assume, therefore, that these individuals and groups will lobby the new Administration to place further curbs on OHV recreation. We can no longer take anything for granted. Our future is what we make of it. If we fall short, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

In the coming weeks, as we get a clearer picture of what an Obama Administration means for OHV recreation, we will be in touch with ARRA members. A new era in American politics is about to begin and we stand ready to meet those new challenges that now stand before us.

Lame Duck Session
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Congress returns to Washington next week and for some of its members, the time here will be bittersweet. Some are retiring on their own accord. Others are also retiring, but the decision wasn't theirs, it was made by their constituents. However, before they pack up their offices and leave Capitol Hill for good, some agenda items remain. For one thing, the Democratic leadership may try to bring up another economic stimulus package in hopes that it will lend additional assistance to those sectors of our economy in serious distress. Outlines of the proposed package have yet to be revealed so it's difficult to know whether this is a good thing to take on now or whether this is something that should be deferred until the new Congress and the Obama Administration take office in January, 2009.

The other unfinished business in the Senate is consideration of the infamous H. R. 5151, legislation that incorporates almost 150 separate measures including wilderness designations, national park expansion initiatives, water bills, historical designations, and not to be forgotten, the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) legislation. H.R. 5151 seems to have something in it for every conceivable political entity in the U. S. Congress. It is so sweeping in magnitude, it should die of its own weight, but it hasn't. H.R. 5151 should definitely be deferred until 2009 and perhaps, forever.

Once again, we ask you to contact your Senators and urge them to oppose passage of H. R. 5151. Contact them today, because this measure could be up for a Senate floor vote as early as November 17th. You can do so by visiting http://www.arra-access.com/ct/Q1zUY291bYyp/.

National Recreation Groups Meet on Land Use Issues
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ARRA met with the leaders of 9 other national OHV recreation organizations in Las Vegas on November 6 to discuss a variety of land use issues affecting OHV recreation. The meeting was held in conjunction with the Specialty Equipment Mark Association (SEMA) annual convention.

Stakeholder organizations represented at the meeting included the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, the American Motorcyclist Association, ARRA, the BlueRibbon Coalition, the Motorcycle Industry Council, the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, the Off-Road Business Association, the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, and Tread Lightly!

This was the third time in 2008 that these groups have met. While we all have different approaches to solving public policy issues, we find it is helpful to meet, kick around ideas, and see where we agree and disagree. At this meeting, we focused on the 2008 election results and new challenges facing OHV recreation in the 111th Congress including the very important reauthorization of the Recreational Trails Program.

Trying Times
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During the past 60 days, we have witnessed some very troubling news about the global economy. The meltdown on Wall Street is affecting Americans of all walks of life. Daily we hear the sobering news of more foreclosures, layoffs, plant closures, and national retailers seeking bankruptcy protection. In short, these are trying times for all. Regardless of one's political persuasion, we are all hoping that President-elect Obama and the team he assembles will be able to work closely with the Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to fashion policies that will strengthen our national economy. If there were ever a time for bi-partisan cooperation, that time is now.

Sincerely,

Larry E. Smith
Executive Director
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access

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