With the Forest Service continuing the implementation of the Travel Management Rule and with many forests working hard to complete the process by the end of FY2010, ARRA continues to work closely with the agency in terms of resolving issues such as adequate signage, better maps and outreach to the OHV enthusiast community. Whenever there is a change at the top, we have to remain vigilant to ensure that priorities do not change, especially as it relates to OHV recreation. In other words, we are going to keep a watchful eye on the agency as it undergoes this leadership change.
We wish Chief Kimbell a happy retirement and welcome Chief-designate Tidwell back to the Nation's Capital. We look forward to the opportunity of working with him to support the agency's recreation programs.
New Director at BLM
The Director of the BLM does require Senate confirmation and President Obama has announced his intention to nominate Bob Abbey as the next Director of the agency. Abbey hails from the State of Nevada and his candidacy has the strong backing of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader.
Abbey was a long time employee of both the Bureau of Land Management and the State of Nevada and has an extensive background in managing public lands. As the largest landlord in the U. S., BLM controls 256 million acres, and the Director has a lot of say over how that land is used by all sorts of entities, including recreation.
In recent years, BLM has come under criticism by some members of Congress over its approach in managing OHV recreation. These members were unhappy with the agency's pace in moving to a designated trail system. Last year, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing on OHV recreation and both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management reviewed for the committee their approach in managing this increasingly popular form of recreation. Much of the criticism leveled at BLM was over the fact that it could take up to 10 years to complete the process. The agency's response was that they were doing what they could with the financial resources available. Time will tell what changes the new Director will bring to BLM. We will keep you informed as things happen.
Recreational Trails Program
We have written about the importance of this program and the challenges we face as budget pressures continue to threaten all programs associated with the highway trust fund. Current estimates are that the highway trust fund will run out of money by this August and that another $6-9 billion will be needed to complete highway projects currently underway.
James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has been working hard to fashion legislation to provide financial stability to the fund and to create a transportation policy that will provide a framework for the next six years. Chairman Oberstar has released his proposed legislation calling for the expenditure of $450 billion over six years. We are very pleased to report that he continues to recognize the importance of the Recreational Trails Program and that he is seeking a renewal of its authorization in his transportation measure.
The future of the Oberstar effort is uncertain because the Obama Administration just announced that it did not want the Congress to pass a six-year reauthorization measure. Instead, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is suggesting an 18-month extension. The shorter extension is being proposed because the Obama Administration hasn't figured out a way to pay for a six-year program in light of all the other financial pressures facing the federal government. In other words, a band-aid approach seems to be the order of the day and as of this writing, it looks as though the Senate will go along with that approach.
So, despite Chairman Oberstar's hard work, the future of our transportation policy remains uncertain and the future of the Recreational Trails Program remains in doubt. The current law expires September 30, 2009, so we anticipate that in July and September (the Congress is in recess during the month of August) the House and the Senate, in consultation with the Obama Administration, will attempt to cobble together a temporary patch that will fund the highway trust fund for another 18 months. We need to remain vigilant to ensure that RTP receives a similar extension.
Every day the news is filled with more stories about plant closures, layoffs, declining property values, plummeting retail store sales, etc. Practically every aspect of our national economy is affected by the economic downturn. These are discouraging times for many of our neighbors, friends, and family members. This uncertainty makes the times all the more stressful, but especially so for those with young families.
All of us are learning to do more with less. Some are better at it than others, but we are all learning because we have to. Rather than taking long vacations, many families are taking day-long trips. Those of you who are fortunate enough to live relatively close to public lands can access these areas at little or no cost. Take advantage of this by taking your kids for a day of exploring. Tear them away from the television set or the computer and insist that they spend a day with you hiking, OHV riding or boating. All of you will be healthier for it, both physically and emotionally, and in the process you will strengthen family ties.
Vacations don't have to be expensive. Devoting one day a week outdoors with the family will make a world of difference in facing the challenges ahead.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access