2008 is beginning to shape up as totally unpredictable. If things continue as they have thus far, it will be known as the year of the underdog. The Giants defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, John McCain pulls a surprising comeback after sinking in the polls in the summer of 2007, and Barack Obama proves to be a strong challenger to Hillary Clinton. What a year, and we are only 30 plus days into it.
The Federal Reserve announces a surprised reduction of 3/4 of a point in interest rates and it did so without even convening its regularly scheduled meeting in Washington but rather over a late night conference call on a secured telephone line.
President Bush delivers his last State of the Union address to a Joint Session of Congress, but has to share the news limelight with the unexpected endorsement of Barack Obama by Teddy Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy.
All of this is a bit like when the airline pilot announces to everyone that they should tighten their seat belts in anticipation of unexpected turbulence. You hope the pilot is wrong but you don't want to take a chance that he/she isn't. 2008 is going to be one of those "tighten your seatbelt" years.
The news we heard about the FY09 Federal budget doesn't give us much comfort about unbuckling that seatbelt. In fact, we are in for one rough ride.
The Bush Administration submitted to Congress its proposed budget for FY 2009 and public lands suffered a hard hit squarely in the jaw. What additional money the Forest Service received was for fire fighting purposes only. One publication suggested that the Forest Service change its name to the Fire Service. To make up the difference, the recreation budget and the budget for the maintenance of roads and trails were hit hard.
The proposed budget for trails is being cut by a whopping 33% from what was finally appropriated in FY08. And the recreation budget is being cut 8% from what was received last year. Please use the link below to see a chart of recreation budgets.
This budget proposal has severe implications for the Travel Management Rule. Already, we are seeing signs that certain National Forests are choosing to not to consider user created routes as a part of the implementation process of the Travel Management Rule and all in the name of limited budget resources. From day one, we were concerned that inadequate resources would adversely impact OHV recreation and we are beginning to see this fear come true. The discussion accompanying the budget submission, especially the section dealing with the Recreation budget, speaks to the Travel Management Rule and the amount of resources the agency is devoting to that effort. While the talk is encouraging, we remain concerned that the individual forest districts are not seeing the actual funding and are therefore taking steps to short circuit the implementation process.
Trails are already inadequately maintained. With less money available for this purpose, we can expect that less work will be done to maintain these trails, eventually leading to more trail closures. This is a slippery slope for an agency that can only seem to fight forest fires and does less and less for the recreating public. This is a very sad state of affairs.
ARRA will once again head to the Hill to fight for more money for the recreation and trails budgets. It's going to take some heavy lifting and even so, there's no guarantee that even if we succeed in getting the Congress to appropriate more funds, that the money will find its way to the forest districts so the spirit of the Rule is fully honored by involving public input in the process. The whole purpose of the Rule is to design and designate a trail system that works and providing quality user maps is critical if users are to identify and stay on the designated route system.
If we don't try to get more money for this purpose, we know the answer. If we try and succeed, we have a chance. Stand ready to help out in this effort. We will soon be sending you an ARRA alert asking you to contact your Representative and Senators.
The results of Super Tuesday are in and the winner is ???. John McCain seems to be picking up speed in terms of distancing himself from his two competitors, former Governors Huckabee and Romney. Even so, some in the conservative wing of the party, along with folks like Rush Limbaugh, simply don't like McCain. McCain is closer to getting that brass ring, but he's going to have to take a few more trips around the merry- go-round of primaries before finally getting the prize. If McCain is the nominee, I can't believe that Russ Limbaugh will begin advocating support for Hillary or Barack, but then, it's a crazy year!
And, on the Democratic side, only one word describes the situation, "wow." The battle shaping up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is one for the history books. We have had women presidential candidates before and black presidential candidates as well, but Clinton and Obama seem to be in an entirely different category and either one can give the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, a very strong competitive race.
The reason I even mention all of this is the fact that all other issues will fade into the background while presidential politics take center stage. Congress will be unable to do little more than pass an economic stimulus package and appropriation measures.
So, issues we care about such as access to public lands for recreation, the Forest Service Travel Management Rule, trail maintenance and the like, will just be a small blip on the political radar screen. That's simply the reality of things in an election year, but that doesn't mean that we give up or don't keep trying to make a difference.
We are going to continue to point out the inadequacies of the Travel Management Rule implementation process. We are going to continue to seek more federal funding for recreation and trail maintenance, fight inappropriate wilderness designations, and begin work on the next phase of the federal Recreational Trails Program. In other words, we aren't going away.
We hope you will continue to join us in this journey. The ride isn't going to be an easy one, but then, what OHV enthusiast doesn't like a challenge. Fasten that seatbelt and hold onto your seat because the rest of the year is going to be quite a ride.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access