The December Legislative Race
Congress has returned to Washington from its Thanksgiving recess only to face a legislative agenda packed full of unfinished business items. One commodity not in abundance is time since the Christmas holiday is a little more than three weeks away. The Senate will spend much of December on health care reform, but both chambers may face possible votes on supporting additional troops for the war in Afghanistan and some yet-to-be-determined legislation to address the very high unemployment rate.
Nellis Dunes National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Act
It seems as though we seldom have good news to tell you, but the Nellis Dunes National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Act of 2009, H.R. 765, has the potential of becoming very good news for OHV enthusiasts living in the Las Vegas area. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Dean Heller of Nevada, would create an OHV recreation area of more than 10,000 acres by using lands owned by Clark County and the Bureau of Land Management. The legislation would authorize the conveyance of approximately 1,200 acres of BLM land to Clark County so the County can develop an active off-highway vehicle recreation park. An additional 9,000 acres would be designated as an off-highway vehicle recreation area to be managed by BLM.
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The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands recently held a hearing on H. R. 765. Further action on the part of the full Committee is required before this legislation can move forward. A portion of BLM land would also be transferred to the Nellis Air Force Base, so the legislation must also be reviewed by the House Armed Services Committee before it can be sent to the full House.
We will keep a close eye on this bill as it moves forward in the House of Representatives and hopefully in the Senate. In the meantime, OHV enthusiasts will have to wait for final action. It's sort of like Christmas for a child; waiting only makes Christmas morning all that more exciting.
Thanks to all the ARRA members who weighed in on this important legislation in response to ARRA's alert. We appreciate your involvement.
Now that you have read the potentially good news about Nellis Dunes, let me provide you with some very sobering news. The federal budget deficit tripled in size in one year. At the end of fiscal year 2008, the deficit stood at $459 billion. At the close of fiscal year 2009, it was $1.42 trillion. The simple explanation for this increase is that tax revenue plummeted due to the recession, while government spending increased in an effort to get the economy back on track. Fortunately for us, interest rates are at an all time low, so servicing this massive debt isn't all that burdensome, but future prospects are less than favorable especially if interest rates eventually rise.
To put this in very stark terms, the current budget deficit is 10 percent of the overall national economy, the highest it has been since World War II. Even more troublesome, the Obama Administration is now projecting $9 trillion in additional debt by the end of the decade unless steps are taken to get things under control. Potential remedies include tax increases or drastic cuts in government spending.
The ramifications of this go far beyond our own economy or political system. Since most of this debt is held by foreign entities (i.e. China), we are already seeing that America's influence on the world stage is being affected. One only needs to point to President Obama's recent trip to China as an example of this.
What does all of this mean for you and me? Several things come to mind. First, the economy is likely to continue to limp along, adding further burdens on the growing federal deficit. The pressure to increase federal income taxes or cut government spending will grow and eventually the Congress and the President will have to make some tough choices. Increasing taxes too much will further retard economic recovery and cutting government spending too drastically runs the same risk. In other words, there aren't any easy answers to get us out of this financial bind.
I fear that our access to public lands will be further limited because of the new budgetary pressures on our public lands agencies. Less money will be appropriated for recreation, trail construction and maintenance. Such reductions would come at a time when more activity is being concentrated on fewer trails and areas because of policies like the Forest Service Travel Management Rule -- a policy, we might add, that ARRA has supported, though we have become increasingly concerned that adequate resources aren't being devoted to maintenance issues. Greater usage of fewer trails require more maintenance and if you don't have sufficient funds for such maintenance, the easiest response is to close access altogether.
Well, we are about to close the history books on 2009 and what a year it has been. We have a new President in the White House and a new Congress. For many Americans, it has been a very difficult year. Our economy struggles to regain its footing, the national unemployment rate is above 10% and many in our military continue to serve in harms' way in foreign lands. Not a pretty picture by any means.
In terms of OHV recreation, we find an atmosphere here in Washington that is far less hospitable. Closing trails rather than opening them seems to be the preferred management option on the part of many land managers. So, as we look to the challenges in 2010, our efforts to preserve and increase access to public lands could become even more difficult. At ARRA, we are prepared for these new challenges and we hope you join us as we make the case for more access.
Our New Year's wish is that 2010 will bring better times for all concerned. Let's hope for growing prosperity for our country, peace for those who serve in our military and greater wisdom on the part of our political leaders. This might be all too much to wish for, but it is our wish and we hope it is yours as well.
Larry E. Smith
Click here to learn more about Americans for Responsible Recreational Access