The Passage of Time
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access
I prepared this newsletter between the Christmas and New Year holidays. I like this time of year because the rush of Christmas is over. There are fewer people in town thereby making it easier to get into work, and there is just a general sense of quiet in the Nation's Capital. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the President and the Congress are out of town, who knows? This window of quiet also gives me an opportunity to reflect upon the concluding year and look forward to the New Year. Even though the exact timing of the beginning and the end of a year is an arbitrary demarcation determined by Pope Gregory more than 400 years ago, it does serve as a defining moment whereby we segment our lives into a finite time capsule. With each passing year, I become more reluctant about giving out my date of birth. This reluctance has nothing to do with the fear of becoming a victim of financial fraud, but rather, the simple tick of the clock. It's the passage of time that most of us hate to accept, especially since we are so powerless to do anything about it.
Looking Back in 2007
2007 was a year of change especially in Washington. A newly elected Congress took office in January and for the first time in many years, both the House and the Senate were controlled by the Democrats and the Republicans were no longer in the legislative driver's seat. We witnessed the exodus of a series of key federal land managers as the Bush Administration entered its final two years in office. We saw the resignations of the Director of the Bureau of Land Management, the Secretary of Agriculture and the retirement of the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. A new Forest Service Chief was appointed to the post, a new Director of BLM was confirmed by the Senate, and we still await the confirmation of a new Secretary of Agriculture.
Global warming became the hot political topic of the day (or should we say the year) with Congress enacting new energy standards covering everything from cars to light bulbs. It wasn't so long ago that Congress determined, in the name of water conservation, the appropriate volume of water flow in toilets. That policy wasn't exactly a huge success. It's good to know that it has begun to focus on more global issues.
The Forest Service continued the implementation phase of the Travel Management Rule and ARRA, along with a number of other national OHV organizations, participated in a number of workshops on the new Rule. Going to a route designation system for OHV recreation on Forest Service land is a substantial change in practice. Judging from the implementation process to date, patience will be needed on the part of both Forest Service personnel and OHV enthusiasts.
Wilderness legislation introduced in the 110th Congress became as numerous as flavors of ice cream. It's hard to find any politician who didn't rush out to embrace any legislation with a "Wilderness" in its title. We even had one member of Congress, who represents New York City, introduce legislation that would create a giant wilderness area that would touch almost every state west of the Mississippi River. Ah, the legislative process.
And, when Congress left town just before Christmas, its approval rating under Democratic control wasn't much better than it was when the Republicans were in charge. And, despite the Democrats call for change, very little change occurred since we had the same legislative gridlock this session as we had last session.
A new organization against OHV recreation emerged and held a briefing on Capitol Hill where it called for restraints on OHV recreation and for congressional enactment of legislation calling for stiffer fines and penalties for bad behavior on public lands. Nothing really new on this score since ARRA has been working on the enforcement issue for several years now, and has succeeded in getting the House of Representatives to pass the legislation on two occasions. When we reached out to this group and suggested it they join us in supporting our legislation, its response was one of silence. Maybe it is more interested in having an issue rather than a solution. So much for collaboration!
In 2007, snowmobile use in Yellowstone continued to be an issue and we suspect that will be the case in 2008 as well.
Finally, the 2007 fiscal year for the federal government started out with the Bush Administration cutting the Forest Service's budget for recreation and trail maintenance. ARRA and other OHV groups fought to get this funding restored and fortunately, the Congress listened to us and not the Office of Management and Budget. The cuts were restored and then some. This was a small but an important victory nonetheless for OHV recreation.
Forward into 2008
The 2008 Presidential election is eleven months away, but the primary season is already upon us. By the time many of you read this newsletter, the Iowa caucus will have already been held (January 3rd) and the New Hampshire primary follows right behind on January 8th. Between then and February 5th, 25 other states will hold either primaries or caucuses. By the early hours of February 6th, the country should know the identity of the likely Presidential nominees for both the Republican and Democratic parties. And even though 27 others states and territories will hold primaries or caucuses throughout the rest of spring and early summer, for all practical purposes the presidential primary season is over by February 6th and the general election presidential campaigning will begin between the presumptive nominees. 2008 is going to be a very long political year. The only people happy about that prospect are the ad agents for the broadcast industry.
Gridlock in Congress to Continue
With the 2008 election season beginning so early, political maneuvering in Congress between Republicans and Democrats will begin in earnest on January 15, when the 2nd session of the 110th Congress convenes. It will be interesting to see how well the congressional leadership in both parties works with its presumptive presidential nominees. It will be a strange courtship since the party conventions don't occur until August and September so neither candidate can really claim to be official until after the conventions. On the other hand, neither candidate is going to want their congressional party leaders to do anything in the legislative session that could provide the opposition party with a campaign issue going into the November elections. And if you add into this political mix the fact that this is the last year of the Bush Administration, we expect little will happen in Congress in terms of substantive legislative achievements.
Public Lands Use Issues and Challenges
Implementation of the Forest Service Travel Management Rule will continue well into 2008. The process is not without its problems or challenges and the OHV community will have to remain actively involved if it is to achieve the goal of maintaining access to National Forests for OHV recreation. Separately, the Bureau of Land Management has begun a more decentralized process that will eventually lead to a similar policy of designated routes or areas for OHV recreation, thus providing another set of challenges to OHV enthusiasts.
Managing conflict among a variety of users will continue to be an issue facing managers of public lands especially as more and more Americans seek to utilize these public lands for an array of recreational pursuits. OHV user groups can play a major role in facilitating good practices and attitudes among all users of public lands. It is only through good practices that we can effectively counter the arguments of those who simply want to ban OHV access to public lands. While some of the challenges ahead of us are great, I am optimistic that the OHV community will continue to provide effective leadership on a host of issues affecting the use of public lands. By doing our homework and remaining vigilant, we can succeed in keeping our public lands open to all those who want to recreate in a responsible manner.
Have a Happy and Safe New Year!