Last year was a bit of a debacle for public lands. Between the proposals to sell off millions of acres of public land, a widespread rollback of the public process on BLM lands, and reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, we stayed busy trying to protect the places we all love. Looking ahead to 2018, there will be plenty of work defending public lands, but also some opportunities to make the public lands we love even better. Here’s what we expect to see in the next year:
Recreation Not Red Tape Act: Reintroduced last summer, the Recreation Not Red Tape (RNR) Act is first-of-its-kind legislation focusing on how to improve access and protection for outdoor recreation on public lands. The bill includes a new organic designation, National Recreation Areas, which will offer tailored management for landscapes with highly valuable outdoor recreation resources.
Status: this bipartisan bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate, and has had a hearing in the House already. Markup expected in February in the House Natural Resources Committee.
National Forest Planning: National Forests around the country are updating their forest plans right now. Each Forest updates its plan every 15-20 years, and the planning process includes opportunities for people who love the outdoors to get involved, improve outdoor experiences, and protect special landscapes for the long term. Outdoor Alliance is deeply involved in a few of these forest planning processes, including in California, North Carolina, and Colorado.
Status: forest planning is ongoing in a number of states. Impress your friends at parties by learning the basics of the planning process.
National Monument rollbacks: The story didn’t end with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Sec. Zinke’s report at the end of his monument “review” period recommended reductions to additional monuments besides those in Utah. The report also recommended roll backs in two more protected landscapes: Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and Gold Butte in Nevada.
Status: Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Write your members of Congress now about keeping national monuments protected.
Assaults on the Antiquities Act: The Antiquities Act (the legislation that enables Presidents to create – but not eliminate! – national monuments on public land) is at risk beyond the monument rollbacks. Last year, Rep. Bishop introduced a bill that would basically block Presidents from creating new monuments by introducing a series of bureaucratic hurdles. This transfers authority over decisions about how to care for our national public lands to state officials.
Public land heist: We expect plenty more shenanigans this year that threaten Americans’ ownership of public lands. In 2018, this looks like bills that will damage the public process (meaning you don’t have a fair say over what happens on your public land), continued defunding of land management agencies that make it impossible for them to do their work well, and shifting management away from the public and toward industry or state government. The pivot toward “energy dominance” threatens to displace balanced use on public lands, handing over management authority to extractive industries or cutting outdoor recreation out of the process.
Status: death by a thousand paper cuts with these bills; stay up-to-date by signing up for action alerts.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund: This program has helped to create protected land and recreation opportunities in 50 states for over 50 years. Two years ago, LWCF was temporarily reauthorized after its expiration. Rather than battle over renewing it every few years, we hope to see it permanently reauthorized.
Status: Expires in September with a decent chance of reauthorization (possibly permanent) before then, but not without solid outreach from the public to their members of Congress. Rep. Bishop in particular continues to be a roadblock for reauthorizing the program.
Wildfire funding: as wildfire season gets longer and more intense in the west, funding for wildfire suppression has drained the budgets of land management agencies. There is good momentum in Congress to fix fire funding - mainly by treating fires like other natural disasters. The concern is that this solution may be held ransom as a means of extracting forest management changes aimed at reducing public participation and environmental review for logging projects. While there is likely room for some process streamlining, some of the proposals we have seen have been extreme.
Status: a wildfire fix could be added to a budget or appropriations deal as soon as February, following either a government shut down or a continuing resolution (that would extend the current budget). Reaching out to your member of Congress remains important for this issue.
Place-based protections: new protective designations (like Wilderness or Wild and Scenic Rivers) are an uphill fight in this Congress. However, there are a few opportunities for new protections, including East Rosebud Creek, Mountains to Sound Greenway, Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Continental Divide Wilderness.
Status: A few designations (Mountains to Sound, East Rosebud) have already been introduced and had hearings; others are likely to be introduced in coming months.