Sadly, one result of this process is that partisan tensions in Washington are at an all time high. Neither side seems willing or trustful enough to work with the opposing party. Like kids at the local school playground, we might have to call a "time out" and send everyone to their rooms in hopes that civility will return and members of Congress can begin to work for the common good. Short of this, we all stand to suffer.
Omnibus Public Lands Bill and More!
Last month, we reported on the Monumental Problem the Department of the Interior had when the disclosure of a confidential document revealed that the Administration was considering the designation of a whole slate of new monument areas. The leaked document was dismissed by the Secretary of the Interior as merely the work of a "brainstorming session" within the Bureau of Land Management. It now seems the little brainstorming session has morphed into something else and Administration's caterpillar is about to spread its' wings.
On March 26, 2010, the Obama Administration announced its decision to hold a White House Conference on April 16th called: America's Great Outdoors Initiative. The conference has been billed as an opportunity to collect ideas from all over the country on new initiatives that could be undertaken by the Administration to connect the American people to America's great outdoors. Normally when a White House Conference is announced, a detailed agenda is also distributed, but not in this case. Specifics about this conference coming from the Administration have been sketchy to say the least.
Due to the diligent work of a very good journalist, more details about the conference have come to light. A March 29th special bulletin of the Public Lands News reported the following: "If and when the initiative is fleshed out, insiders (we assume this means sources within the Department of the Interior or the Department of Agriculture) believe it could include:
* The designation of a number of national monuments on BLM land
* Full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund
* Revitalization of the National Park System in time for its 100th Anniversary in 2016
* An omnibus public lands and parks bill
* All of the above"
Jim Coffin, editor and publisher of Public Lands News went on to write that the "source of the billions of dollars to accomplish such ambitious goals....has not been identified publicly." Coffin speculated that the money might come from off shore oil and gas royalties since Secretary Salazar has previously identified such royalties as a new source of revenue, especially if royalty revenues are increased.
Well, guess what happened on March 31, 2010, two days after Jim Coffin's article? President Obama announced a major initiative to authorize new off shore drilling for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast. The pieces of the puzzle are beginning to come together. First, we had the internal work at BLM preparing lists of action items that were later described as the results of a mere brainstorming session by some faceless government workers. Second, we have the announcement of a major White House Conference focusing on public lands, and finally, a potential funding mechanism to support such expansion efforts becomes known when the President unveils a new policy authorizing expanded off shore oil and gas exploration.
Okay, you say, why should you care and what is the rush all about? You should care because this initiative might be so huge that it will be difficult to sort out the full scope of the proposal. Remember, the Congress just passed a 2300 page health care bill even though Members of Congress didn't know all the details of the reform package. The answer to the "what's the rush" question is easy. The Obama Administration is reading the same political polls as everyone else. Predictions are that the Democratic Party will have slimmer margins when the new Congress convenes after the November elections. Therefore, the rush is to get this package through the Congress while they still have the votes!
We are hoping that good things will come out of this White House Conference, but we also believe in Ronald Reagan's mantra:trust but verify.
These next few months are shaping up to be very interesting. We will keep you posted and we hope you stay engaged.
Forest Service Planning Rule
The process of collaboration on the proposed Forest Service planning rule has begun. The first two days of meetings in Washington were called the Science Forum. Then the next two days were the National Roundtable meetings. Other sessions will occur throughout the country this month and next.
These are important sessions since they will set the tone for the future management of our National Forests. For example, one issue that received quite a bit of attention during the course of the Science Forum was the need to elevate "recreation" as an area of focus under the rule. This was one of ARRA's main criticisms of the Notice of Intent, so it was heartening to hear others say that this was an omission that needed to be addressed.
One of the themes I heard during the first day of the National Roundtable session was that our national policies are sometimes disconnected from the realities that exist at the local level. The forests in the eastern part of the U.S. are very different from those in the west. Gateway communities face different challenges than those communities totally dependent upon the harvesting of forest resources. In other words, one size doesn't fit all. This doesn't mean we shouldn't have a national rule. It does mean, however, that we need a rule that is flexible and accommodating to a variety of needs ranging from timber harvests, to grazing, to mining, to recreation and to tourism.
The rule will only be as good as the input provided in these sessions. Therefore, it is critical that the Forest Service hear from those of you who care about recreational access, especially for motorized recreation. The ARRA website has a listing of the upcoming meetings. Be engaged and make a difference. Do your part to help shape the new planning rule for our National Forests.The future is yours to control.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)