Lame-Duck Congressional Session - The Democrats’ ambitions for their lame duck are shrinking by the day. But the session is destined to last deep into December, anyway, now that the agenda-setting summit between Obama and congressional leaders - which was scheduled for Nov 18 - has been put off until Nov. 30.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is down playing expectations for a productive post-election session, even as the White House and rank-and-file Democrats push for action on multiple legislative fronts before losing control of the House to Republicans.
Reid’s positioning is significant and closely watched by House Democratic leaders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that the House will not act on any of the many priorities that were put off until after the elections unless Reid indicates the Senate can pass them.
There are three priority items on the legislative agenda - arms control treaty, Continuing Resolution, and tax-cut extension. Possibility of an Omnibus Public Lands bill diminish as each day passes. Complicating the time-frame is continued political in-fighting over Democrat leadership during the next congressional session. The Continuing Resolution must be addressed by Dec 3, 2010. The tax-cut extension (and the arms treaty) require attention prior to Dec 31, 2010. There is no consensus on any of the issues.
The upcoming 112th Congressional session is expected to focus on budget issues with all federal programs (even Department of Defense) open to review and possible reduction. The Recreational Trails Programming funding is expected to be dropped.
With all the uncertainty hanging over agency budgets, especially after recent release of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) annual fall update of the long-term sustainability of the federal government’s fiscal policies, it isn't looking good for any federal land manager's budget.
California Politics - The reality of the situation is the anti-access community is very upset about how they were screwed with AB 742.
During his previous term as governor, Brown directed the State of California to file suit against the original RARE I wilderness/roadless inventory provided by Forest Service under the Wilderness Act of 1964. That resulted in the RARE II inventory which more than doubled the number of acres of wilderness/roadless inventory in the Forest Service throughout the western states.
Then, as Attorney General, Brown filed suit against the Forest Service over the southern California Forest plans (Los Padres, Angles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland) because they did not designate enough land as "roadless".
Basically, the OHMVR Division and program is now at risk. I fully expect that environmental interests will press to eliminate Daphne Greene as Deputy Director of OHMVR Division and change the OHMVR program into one that again subsidies restoration projects and eliminates motorized recreation opportunity.
There will be a run at overturning SB 742. Daphne is a political appointee that serves at the discretion of the governor. Theoretically, there is a separation of power and the civil service positions are immune from political pressure. Daphne has worked very hard to put in place a Civil Service structure that will outlast a political appointee.
Forest Service - Sequoia National Forest has begun a collaborative process for travel management in the Piute Mountain region southeast of Kernville. The area was omitted from the main Sequoia Travel Management as it was part of a Burn Area Recovery Unit. Preliminary indications are that four wheel drive opportunities in the area will have minimal adverse impact. However, designating a sustainable trail system of dirt bike and ATV trails that does not encroach on wilderness, Resource Natural Areas, riparian areas, and private property will be a challenge.
Water - The final stakeholder Water Quality Management Plan meting was held in Sacramento on Oct 26.
First, a timeline of actions.
The CEQA study is expected to be released Nov 18, 2010 for a 30 day comment period. A Jan 18, 2011 Water Board Hearing is tentative to review the final document. At that time, the Water Board will accept the document or open it for additional public comment.
There are three documents involved: Forest Service Water Quality Management Plan, Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements, and a CEQA Study.
The CEQA Study is open for public comment which will allow comment on the other two documents.
The overall WQMP has been reviewed by the stakeholders in bits and pieces over the past 10 months. Overall, I do not have a problem with the general intent. I do have concerns over two sections: monitoring and Best Management Practices (BMPs).
My concern with the monitoring sections stems from the final will be composed of extracts from other sections. As such, I have not seen the final text and do not know the scope or intent of the monitoring effort.
My concern with the BMPs is how they are structured. The OHV BMPs are very detailed and could be problematic in the long run. Other BMPs are more general in structure and leave a lot to be desired. Since the beginning of the process, Forest has maintained that the BMPs will be "conditions" attached to projects. And, special use permits are a "project" that will have "conditions" attached. This is a point that needs to be tracked once the final draft is available for review.
There will be an "adaptive management" component that should allow for incremental changes in response to noted issues. I was part of a sub-component of the stakeholders group that spent about four months developing the adaptive management component.
I have voiced a major concern with the verbiage of the draft CEQA document. My big concern is within the section "Specifics of Proposed Project". I voiced that as described, the section is narrow in scope and yet subsequent verbiage in that document and in the WQMP are broader in scope. Water Board officials, including Water Board Staff Counsel, did agree that the defined scope was narrow focus and it would be expanded to be more descriptive of the entire expectations of the study.
There is a section in the study document dealing with travel management, Water Board officials acknowledged that what is in this draft has been changed as the language was not an accurate description of the Travel Management Rule. Environmental interests did object as they felt the language (calling for closures) was appropriate. It did take a little for them to realize that the language was in the section describing the scope of the study and not appropriate as it was factually incorrect. However, that language COULD be applied as a mitigation factor tied to the final approval of the waiver.
A few other words and phrases were noted as being problematic and potential point of issue at a later date. Big one dealt with use of "annually" to describe action due. Personally, I lean towards having an "annual" requirement being tied to a specific month or quarter to provide a consistency of data being reported.
On the environmental side of the table, I see three distinct factions forming. All have an opposition to roads; however, all have conflicting final goals.
John Buckley (Central Sierra Nevada Conservancy) has a fixation with removing all grazing allotments from Forest lands; especially in the Stanislaus NF. He is comfortable with having a sustainable network of routes for recreation access. His view of water quality is fixed on bacteria content (e coli and fecal coliform).
Other environmental interests are focused on no roads for OHV recreation. They view water quality is a point in time sample where bacteria and sedimentation can be measured at a specific level of good or bad.
The Tribes appear to want no roads of any kind and want in channel monitoring to measure water quality based on flow rate and volume. They do not want algae laden water.
The Water Board representatives provided an interesting observation as to their view of water quality. They do not appear to be overly concerned about a sample value denoting a single point in time as a measure of water quality. They are more concerned with trends over time with a focus on overall watershed/ecosystem health. Overall, both Water Board and Forest Service acknowledge that general water quality of water leaving Forest Service managed lands is within current water quality standards.
Over the past 10 months, the Forest has displayed a willingness to engage the various stakeholders and does not appear to be fixed on creating a means to eliminate any one component of multiple use of public lands. However, I do sense some disagreement when it comes to recreation. With respect to recreation, there appears to be counter arguments within Forest Service as to the direction to take. One faction appears to be pushing elimination of all natural surface routes while the other is willing to deal with natural surface routes that are sustainable.
Soils condition and moisture are going to be points of contention in the coming months/years. The wild card is how Forest Service will implement "wet weather operations" in their effort to implement the current "watershed improvement" direction from Washington.
There is a pending roll out of the Saturated Soils report as required by the CVRWQCB (Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board) and the Cleanup and Abatement Order from April 2009 in relation to the Rubicon Trail.
One point of immediate concern is Fecal coliform in representative streams within range allotments (grazing) with potential for human health risks
A project was initiated on the Stanislaus National Forest during summer 2010 and is the initial phase of a larger project which will be conducted across USFS Region 5. The project is a collaboration of the USFS, University of California, and interested stakeholders. This will be a multi-year project focused on research, monitoring and outreach to support adaptive management to minimize microbial pollutant levels in USFS waters. The fundamental goal is to provide safe recreational water for forest and downstream users.
Recent reports indicate that elevated fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) levels have been monitored in surface waters on some NFS lands. Concerns have been raised that current livestock management may impair water quality standards. The water quality monitoring conducted during this project is designed to determine the extent and sources of microbial pollution, determine under what circumstances all potential sources contribute microbial pollutants that may impair recreational uses, and identify management alternatives to mitigate impairments. Outreach will be simultaneously conducted to improve manager and stakeholder understanding of microbial water quality, risk factors, and management alternatives to reduce risk.
While this study is focused on grazing issues, fecal coliform is also a by-product of human activity.