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Mitt Romney,Bureau of Land Management,Mark Kelly

In & Around the Halls of Congress

By Jim Duke, Contributing Writer

Every so often among the many calamities heaped on our Senators and members of Congress, some concerns of the public citizens surface and are considered important enough to be brought to the floor for debate. In the last few months of the previous year, most actions in both House and Senate were devoted to seeking any solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and almost nothing of significance to the recreational communities, but external of the halls of congress, especially within the various environmental agencies, there was a few changes and advancements that we, as motorized recreational enthusiasts should be aware of.

  Snowmobilers have long been concerned about the government’s inability to adequately address any solution to the wildfire dilemma or make available necessary funding to the USDA’s National Forest Service or the Department of Interior’s National Park Service for combating the problems. True, most wildfires occur in the western states, but every state is susceptible to such disasters. In Colorado recently, entire communities fell victim to raging wildfires and were only brought under control thanks to the winter snows.

  Approaching the end of 2021, the government established a federal commission to seek all reasonable means to cope with the surge in what is being called “megafires”, again, primarily focusing on the western states. The new committee will be bipartisan and called the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bill sponsored by Congressman Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) in the House & co-sponsored by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ).

  In an update on the Biden administration’s 30×30 plan, with a goal to preserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by the year 2030, the White House recently announced significant progress in conservation efforts of the America the Beautiful Initiative, a 10 year federal conservation program. Reference was made to the Infrastructure Package as being crucial to those conservation efforts.

  The Environmental Protection Agency recently released it’s final rule pertaining to Vehicle Mileage Standards, a goal by the Biden administration to increase a requirement for cars and light trucks to achieve a 40 MPG standard within the next 5 years. The new standards are up from the 32 MPG set by the previous administration in 2020 and a couple of miles per gallon higher than the original goal of 38 MPG set by the Biden administration previously. For those of us using such vehicles to tow our RV or snowmobile & ORV trailers, this initiative can only serve to increase the price of such units.

  The environmental activist groups are rejoicing in what they are calling a victory in gaining an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The agreement comes as a result of a lawsuit filed by the groups in 2020 which stated the previous administration’s decision not to place the spotted owl on the endangered species list was unlawful. As part of the agreement, the agency will conduct a new review of the Endangered Species Act, to be completed by 25 February 2023.

  Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-OR) has introduced a bill, HR-6019, to review and classify the critical habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. Bentz’s office said this bill will ultimately remove about 1 million acres of non-northern spotted owl habitat lands from the area designated as owl habitat. We would hope this would also permit motorized recreation to resume in the previously restricted zones.

  We keep hearing about the financial shortfall the government is continually facing, and how without 14means of additional funds it would have to shut down. In early December that same scenario played out again with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both House & Senate scrambling to get a bill worked out for some extended funding. The bill was H.R. 6119, received bipartisan support, and approved extended agency funding through the middle of February. Some of us wonder why this issue keeps popping up and why it can’t be resolved with a payment period longer than just a couple of months before it has to be considered again? Perhaps a shutdown and some serious cleansing is due.

Mitt Romney,Bureau of Land Management,Mark Kelly

National Forest Service

  Snowmobilers are still restricted from certain areas within the Panhandle National Forest in Northern Idaho, and have been since 2007 when the ban was implemented, declaring  the closure areas as critical habitat for caribou.  In mid-December a U.S. District Court Judge upheld the ban even though it has been proved that caribou no longer migrate into the lower forty-eight states. Reasoning that the Endangered Species Act still justifies the action, the ban on snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles will remain in effect until the Forest Service adopts a winter recreation travel plan, which most likely will not be completed until sometime in 2023.

  Closer to home, the Hiawatha National Forest was recognized with a Coalition for Recreational Trails  (CRT) award, along with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Alger County Snowmobile & ORV Association, and the Munising Visitors Bureau for the restoration of the Doty Trestle Bridge, a major connector for the multi-use trail that completely crosses the Upper Peninsula from Sault Sainte Marie in the east to Ironwood at the western boundary. The trail is maintained year-round by the SORVA of Alger County as a programs grant sponsor.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

  It’s only been a year or two that the governmental leaders in the Trump Administration determined that since the majority of BLM controlled lands was in the western states, the Bureau could better function if the primary offices were located out west as well. They closed the facilities in Washington, DC and moved lock, stock, and barrel to Grand Junction, Colorado. Now for whatever reason, the current administration wants the BLM back in the Capital city.

  Director Tracy Stone-Manning says the agency will keep the Colorado office as their “Western Headquarters”, retaining a few positions there while moving most of its leadership will return to Washington, DC. The Director and deputy director of operations have already returned along with the deputy director of policy and programs.

Mitt Romney,Bureau of Land Management,Mark Kelly

National Park Service

  The National Park Service has a new Director by the name of Charles F. Sams III. He was recently sworn in by Deb Haaland who is the Secretary of Interior. Mr. Sams, who prefers being called Chuck, is the first Native American to hold the top Park Service post. He worked in state and Tribal governments and the non-profit natural resource & conservation management fields for over twenty-five years before being considered to lead the NPS agency.

Prior to being selected for the Park Service Directors post, he held a number of positions within the Tribal community, including President of the Indian Country Conservancy, Executive Director of the Umatilla Tribal Community Foundation, and National Director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program for the Trust for Public Land. He has also held an Executive Director title with several other agencies, including President & CEO for the Earth Conservation Corps.

  In an unrelated announcement, Yellowstone National Park has suspended a wildlife monitoring program which had been used along roads within the park to monitor what effects, if any, snowmobiles and the multi-passenger snow coaches have on the park’s wildlife. This program began in 2013 with a restriction on the number of vehicles allowed into the park in winter months. After years of court battles, legal disputes, and restrictions pertaining to snowmobiles due to concerns over poor air quality and interfering with the park’s wildlife, especially bison. The monitoring system determined snowmobiles and other over-snow machines have minimal effects on any of the park wildlife and the park has opened its roads, at least for this winter season.

Mitt Romney,Bureau of Land Management,Mark Kelly

  The current season may be the final time visitors will be able to enter the Pictured Rocks National Park & Lakeshore without paying an entrance fee. In fact, camping and lighthouse tour fees have already increased as of the first day of this new year. Effective this year on the first day of March, a person wishing to walk or ride a bicycle into the park will be required to pay a five-dollar fee which will be valid for seven continuous days from date of purchase. Boaters will also be assessed a similar fee. Motor vehicles, including motorcycles will need to purchase a ten-dollar pass which will be valid for seven days, or may purchase an annual (12 month) pass for twenty dollars.  But this is just phase one!

  Effective on January 1, 2023, phase 2 begins and rates will double in price ($10.00) for walkers, bicycles, and boaters. For vehicles, excluding motorcycles. The pass will cost twenty dollars for seven days. The fee for motorcycles will increase to fifteen dollars for seven days and the cost for an annual pass will be thirty dollars.

  Phase 3 becomes effective on January 1, 2024 with yet another fee increase to fifteen dollars for the walkers, bicycles, and boaters for a seven-day pass while the pass for motorcycles will go to twenty dollars. A seven-day pass for other vehicles will be twenty-five dollars and the annual pass will increase to forty-five dollars.

  Superintendent David Horne said the new fees will go a long way in providing much needed funding for park improvements. Basic park operations are funded by direct appropriations from Congress, but recreation fees collected at the parks go toward facility maintenance projects such as maintaining safe trails, campground improvements, and visitor centers, as well as development of areas for future uses.

  It is uncertain at this time just how snowmobilers and other winter visitors will be affected by these new fee requirements. Considering current conditions, with park facilities being closed during the winter months and access limited mostly to snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles, such use has yet to be determined.

Mitt Romney,Bureau of Land Management,Mark Kelly
Off-road in the forest and car wheels

Outdoor Recreation

  One final note from the Coalition for Recreational Trails, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation generated more than six-hundred billion dollars and more than four-hundred million jobs in communities across the country, and this was during a year where shutdowns and closures were the norm. As we begin another year with the coronavirus and its many variants keeping a hold on our freedoms, we need to all stand firm and continue to enjoy the great outdoors whenever possible.

  The Department of Commerce has disclosed that motorcycle riding and off-road vehicle usage ranked fourth largest among the nation’s most popular outdoor activities. Snow related activities ranked sixth. As outdoor recreational activities continue to grow, so will the boost to the economy. Let nobody tell you that snowmobiling and off-road fun isn’t a big business…ever!

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