Did you ever watch any of those ‘90s high school TV shows, like Saved By the Bell, or Beverly Hills 90210? Yeah, uhhh, we didn’t either... But maybe you’re familiar with the phenomonen where the cast gets too old to play high school students, and they bring in a bunch of new characters who are all the same archetypes: the jock, the nerd, the popular girl, etc.? Well, that’s basically what’s happening in Congress right now, and much like actually being in high school, it’s important for you to make friends with all these new people, and we’re here to help.
Jokes aside, there are a bunch of new, impressionable members of Congress right now (recall the election in November), and as they get their feet under them, you have an opportunity to become their new BFFs and make sure that they’re repping your priorities.
When someone runs for public office, chances are that they’re especially animated by a relatively small list of issues—possibly things outside of our purview like foreign policy or healthcare—and your new member of Congress might be someone who hasn’t given much thought to issues like public lands and waters. You have a chance right now to get them thinking about these things by sharing your priorities.
Whether you have a new member of Congress or not, dropping your two Senators and one House member a line is a good idea. But it’s especially important if one of your reps has just been elected for the first time.
What are we thinking about going into the new Congress? As far as the big picture goes, you’ve likely noticed that there’s an unprecedented level of uncertainty and chaos in D.C. these days. While the broad outlines of what happens over the next two years are opaque, we do know enough to see some of the opportunities and threats we’ll be engaging with, particularly over the first part of 2019. Here are some of the things top of mind for us at the moment:
Getting the public lands package across the finish line. When we all parted ways at the conclusion of the last season of our congressional telenovela, you’ll recall that we had a bit of cliffhanger: will we get this public lands package enacted? Well, the package has been reintroduced in the Senate, in its entirety by Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell, and we’re expecting similar action soon in the House. Some of the big priorities in play include permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, mineral withdrawal for the Methow Headwaters, Yellowstone Gateway protection, Oregon Wildlands, and Every Kid Outdoors, and there may be some opportunities for changes, including reviving the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act. Things are complicated at the moment by the partial government shutdown, but expect more from us on this soon.
Protecting the Roadless Rule. The Forest Service is currently engaged in a rulemaking to potentially alter the scope of Roadless protections in Alaska, and we expect Utah to request a similar rulemaking soon.
Forest Planning. Forest plan revisions present huge opportunities to shape the management of individual National Forests for a decade or longer, and the forest planning process is often where campaigns for new protective designations, like Wild & Scenic Rivers or Wilderness start. Right now, we’re working on plan revisions for the Grand Mesa-Uncompaghre-Gunnison Forests in Colorado, the Nantahala-Pisgah in North Carolina, the Custer Gallatin in Montana, and the Inyo, Sierra, and Sequoia in California.
Congressional oversight. There have been an awful lot of shenanigans at the Department of Interior over the last two years, including reductions to National Monuments, preferential treatment for extractive industries, and a general disregard for public process and transparency. We’re looking forward to seeing a new House majority conduct rigorous, overdue oversight of DOI.
Climate change. With a changing political landscape and the urgency of action growing ever more dire, expect to be hearing more about this from us in 2019.
Permitting reform. Lead by The Mountaineers, OA member groups have been hard at work on reforms to the special-use permitting process. Special use permitting is important because of the need for organizations to be able to lead groups onto public lands to introduce new participants to the outdoors in a safe, stewardship-minded environment.
Happy New Year, and expect lots more from us as the year rolls on.