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12 minutes reading time (2375 words)

CA4WDC NRC South August Report

USFS Planning Rule -- The Forest Service Planning Rule has been a very contentious issue for the past decade.  Under the Organic Act of 1897, the purpose of the national forest system is conservation of water flow and assurance of a continuous supply of timber. In 1960, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act added a mandate for the concepts of multiple use and sustained yield. Under the 1976 National Forest Management Act, the agency is required to adopt rules (the Planning Rule) for writing land use plans. 

CA4WDC has joined with BlueRibbon Coalition American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) and a broad group of other national and regional interests in a lawsuit to overturn the new Forest Service Planning Rule adopted April 2012. According to the Complaint, the new Rule violates the statutory requirements Congress has given the agency to prepare forest plans to provide for multiple uses of outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish. The Rule instead elevates the vague concepts of “ecological sustainability” and “ecosystem services” such as carbon storage and spiritual values above all else which will lead to years of lawsuits over new forest plans and forest management projects.

Forest Service (Categorical Exclusions) - The Forest Service has proposed to substitute pre-decisional objections for post-decisional appeals for all projects that would require an environmental analysis or EIS.  The service already uses the pre-decisional process for hazardous fuel reduction projects.

But, it is unclear how sweeping the rule would be if and when it is implemented because of a federal court decision that held that an agency regulation that exempts certain activities of a minor nature from environmental documentation violated a Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

The expected impact of this will be noticed with the numerous projects of routine nature related to trail maintenance projects.  Currently, those are reviewed and generally receive a CatEx (Categorical Exclusion) from additional NEPA environmental analysis.  Due to a lawsuit ruling (Earth Island Institute vs Ruthenbeck; 9th Circuit, 2006), projects under consideration for a CatEx must be made available to a post-decision appeal period.  Any impact will be noted with extended analysis/review time before projects can be started.

Forest Plan Revisions -- The Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo National Forests are scheduled to begin Forest Plan Revisions. They will be the first of a series of plan revisions facing the 18 national forest within USFS Region 5 (California).  The proposed start time has slipped to the beginning of 2013. 

Forest Service Roadless Rule -- In June, CA4WDC joined BlueRibbon Coalition and others submitting an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief was submitted in support of two petitions asking the Court to review the Clinton-Gore 2001 Roadless Rule.

The recreation groups joined forces in its "friend of the court" filing with the American Forest Resource Council, the State of Wyoming and others. The underlying petitions were filed by the State of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association to seek review of the decision in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which reinstated the 2001 Rule. The decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the previous decision of the U.S. District of Wyoming which had found the Rule illegal.

The appeal has been accepted to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court during its upcoming session.

Clear Creek Management Area -- legislation has been submitted by Rep Sam Farr (D-CA17) for Clear Creek National Recreation Area (H.R. 6286) which will convert the current CCMA into a National Recreation Area where OHV recreation is center. The proposed NRA will continue to be managed by BLM for OHV recreation opportunities.

TrailPAC -- Americans are blessed with an opportunity vote for elected representatives. Each year finding a suitable candidate that reflects your views is becoming more difficult. We have a rare opportunity to support a candidate to the US House of Representatives that is a proven supporter of OHV recreation -- Representative Dan Lungren.

Representative Lungren has been targeted as the primary incumbent to beat by the anti-access machine. Yes, Lungren is at the top of the national hit list of Republican candidates to defeat in the November election.

Cal4Wheel is partnering with the TrailPAC to support the Re-elect Lungren campaign. Join us at a fundraising reception on Sept 30, 2012 at the Cal4wheel meeting room to meet with Representative Lungren.

Check the Cal4Wheel website (http://www.cal4wheel.com) for more information and to donate to the Committee to Re-elect Dan Lungren to the US House of Representatives. Donate what you can and join us to meet Representative Lungren.

UTV Helmet Law -- California has passed an industry sponsored UTV safety law, AB 1595.  Authored by Assemblyman Paul Cook (R-65) has stirred some controversy with some of the industry supported requirements.  Some have been noted and Assemblyman Cook is submitting "fix-it" legislation.  

Consumer Products Safety Commission has announced an October 11-12, 2012 summit on all-terrain vehicle safety at their headquarters in Bethesda, MD.  Initially, the CPSC appears to be addressing ATVs -- All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are motorized vehicles, designed for off-road use, with three or four broad, low-pressure tires (less than 10 pounds per square inch), a seat designed to be straddled by the operator, and handlebars for steering.

At this point, it is unclear whether the UTV category will be melded into the broad ATV category or addressed as a separate issue.

California OHV Funding
--  In May I began working on a document that will bring together information about the state OHV program.  The first phase, review and analysis of the Local Assistance Grants program is nearing completion.

As a frame of reference, I began work on this document with the thought process of "If this were a business, work it be a good investment?"  With that frame of reference, I began with a look at the "output" -- OHV Local Assistance Grants -- to determine what their performance was over the course of the OHV Program existence.

That created my baseline of grant funding allocated per year.  That was subsequently broken down into grant categories, grant recipients, and ultimately, the amount of grant funding per county.

Next, I reviewed the available In Lieu funding and aggregated that per county. I have In Lieu data back to 1994.

Still to be addressed is visitor use data.  I have data from OHV Division which is their SVRA visitor data from 1984 to current.  The Forest Service and BLM also publish “visitor use” data.  That data is required by law and published every four years.  While the data is not a direct “apples-to-apples” comparison, there are statistical analysis routines that will indicate a “probability of correlation”.

My goal is to develop a document that lays out the history of the OHV program that is a reference point for proposed changes to the program and restore the financial health and integrity of the OHV Program.  I have documented eleven instances (amount, years and reason) where funds have been diverted from the OHV Trust Fund to other sources.

A “quick look” analysis indicates the OHV program is not significantly impacted by “mild” recessions (less than 12 months with a loss of 2% or less of Gross Domestic Product).  Two recessions, early 1990s and the 2007-current), have had a significant impact on OHV recreation.  Both of those have been more than 12 months with a GDP loss greater than 2%.

I want to address three critical issues are are being overlooked within the current discussion.

1.  A recent article, "REFORM LAW PUSHED AFTER PARKS SCANDAL", published in the San Diego Union Tribune on Friday, Aug 16, 2012 (http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/aug/16/tp-reform-law-pushed-after-parks-scandal/) reports that the legislature is pushing a "reform" concept in dealing with the issue.  Rather the push for "reform" legislation, the reform should begin within the management of the Department of Parks and Recreation.  There are existing laws on the books passed by the California legislature that were circumvented in perpetuating this scandal.  About 20% of the State Parks employees are located in the Sacramento office.  And, local and regional park units are suffering chronic staffing shortages.  There are internal controls defined  The Financial Integrity and State Managers Accountability Act of 1983 (http://www.dof.ca.gov/osae/fisma/) establishes what Ms Coleman should have been doing and failed to do.  While she is culpable for what happened during her tenure, the core problem is systemic within State Parks.

New legislation is not needed.  Adherence to existing legislation would have prevented this problem.

2.  Over the past 10-12 years, the California Department of Parks and Recreation has been actively working to change their legislated mission from the theme of "Parks and Recreation" to a them of "historic preservation".

Within this context, components of State Pave been re-invented to feature historic preservation and remove recreation.  Hence, many of the park units that feature camping opportunities have been placed on closure lists and have sustained reduced funding levels.  While there reduced funding at 10 park unites in San Diego Coast District, the Colorado River District has experienced reduced funding and closure threats where two of their units are strictly camping orientated.  Overall, it is not clear whether the reduction in funding and staffing is limited to park units the offer “recreation”, such as camping opportunities.

State Parks retains the official title of Department of Parks and Recreation on letterhead and official correspondence.  However, in their interaction with the public, the word "recreation" has been dropped from their mission.  Shoulder patches worn by employees display this recent change as to many of the signs and advertisements promoting park units.

3.  One of entities within Department of Parks and Recreation that features recreation is the Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division.  The California OHMVR program was created in 1971 as a self-funded program.  The primary funding is derived from registration of off-road vehicles, entries fees to State Vehicle Recreation Areas (SVRA), and gas tax revenue derived from a calculation of the motor vehicle fuel tax paid for fuel used in off-highway recreation.

The 2012/2013 Fiscal Year is the fourth consecutive year where substantial funding has been diverted from the OHMVR Program to other sources.  Since 1974, approximately $195.9 million has been diverted from the OHMVR Program to the General Fund and State Parks and Recreation Fund.  Of that total , $129 million has been diverted from the self-funded OHV Trust Fund within the last four state budget cycles.

The funding reductions of the last few years means that the program has already had demonstrable reductions that will be visible this year; such as a 10% cut to district staffing; an 18% cut in headquarters staffing.  Contracts are being cut, which means fewer hours at the SVRA.  There will be closures in the middle of the week and, clearly, there has been loss of opportunity in the maintenance of the trails and the riding in the areas supported by local assistance grants.

Annually, the OHV program receives about $55 million that comes from the Gas Tax.  That gas tax amount is what is used by the recreation community for off-road recreation and was identified as the primary source of funding for the self-funded OHV program and codified in 1972.  Overall, the state of California receives about $5.2 billion in Gas Tax each year.  Of that, $55 million goes to the OHV Trust Fund.  The remaining OHV Trust Fund money is received from registration fees and SVRA entry fees.

The OHV Program is a $75 million per year program, all from user funding.  The continued diversion of funds from the OHV Trust Fund are beginning to place the program in jeopardy.  The local assistance grants for 2012/2013 grant cycle are 52% lower than last year.  There is no more money to replenish the capital outlay and acquisition account in the trust fund. The OHV program works so well because those local assistance grants go to specific law enforcement, environmental, educational and riding opportunities outside the SVRAs.  

The consequences of loss of the local assistance grants program and capital outlay is a rapid disintegration of the SVRA system (the OHV Program) because we will not have enough money to handle the growing need.

The grant funding is provided to local agencies: U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, County Sheriff Departments, and numerous non-profit agencies.  This funding is spend in the counties for salaries for workers and purchase of miscellaneous materials for projects.  

The current financial scandal involving State Parks and “hidden” accounts underscores a bigger problem within the system.  As noted, in the past four budget cycles, $129 million has been diverted from the OHV Trust Fund to other sources, including the State Parks Recreation Fund.  Analysis of the 2007-08 Budget Bill conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that the SPRF was virtually depleted.  That fund relies on park entry fees and had been 91-96% below estimates for previous years.  In subsequent budget cycles, the OHV Trust Fund has been depleted and State Parks is sitting on two special funds totaling over $54 million; $33.5 million identified as OHV Trust Fund and $20.4 million identified as State Parks and Recreation Fund.

As it stands, indications are that ALL the State Parks “hidden” funds are OHV Trust Funds.  The visionary leaders that created the self-funded OHV Program wanted a strong, organized program that included law enforcement, the remediation of land, and education with an understanding of where you can recreate legally.

The past diversion of funds from the OHV Trust Fund has placed the program in jeopardy and endanger of becoming encumbered.  The local assistance grants for 2012/2013 grant cycle are 52% lower than last year; a reduction that poses a serious threat to the OHV program.

Now, when this is put into context of the $54 million of "surplus" funds, $34 million is reserve OHV Trust Funds.  The remaining $20 million is OHV Trust Funds that have been "loaned" to the State Parks and Recreation Fund" from the OHV Trust Fund.

The real story behind this scandal lies in the systemic financial management problems within State Parks.  

There is a long-standing history of issues dealing with OHV and State Parks.  I have have compiled a listing of audits dealing with the OHV Program and State Parks. Looking at the titles of the audit reveals a long-standing history of issues dealing with OHV and State Parks.

Important to the discussion of the OHV Program are the audits OHMVR-2005, OHMVR-1990, OHMVR-1984, and OHMVR-1976 (2 separate audits).  

My reading of these audits indicate critical issues that reflect on-going/systemic management issues within OHMVR Division and State Parks that involve financial management issues.

Copies of these audits (and more documents) are available on my website at the link noted below.

Copies of these audits are available at:  http://www.4x4voice.com/Notebook/California-OHMVR/index.html?1

West coast log, lumber exports down in first half ...
Climate Change Report Released
 

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