Every so often, we read or hear something that makes us stop, think and, in a nice way, say, “What’s this?” That’s what happened a couple of weeks ago when I received an e-mail from one of Congressman Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) Washington, D.C. staffers. Congressman Cheney was present at a hearing held on a proposed bill on Oct. 3, and the bill raised some concerns for her.
House of Representatives (HR) 3400, The Recreation Not Red Tape Act, is sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who is also the U.S. House Chairman on the Natural Resources Committee. Earlier this year, a companion bill was filed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore). The House version is the same as the Senate bill, so, if passed by both houses, Congress can avoid the need for a conference committee.
In the past, if we saw something with Rep. Bishop’s name on it, we just knew it would be good for public lands ranching. He is a good friend of the West and our way of life. I haven’t heard Rep. Bishop’s reasoning behind this bill, but he certainly has some explaining to do.
HR 3400 intends to “promote innovative approaches to outdoor recreation on federal land and to open up opportunities for collaboration with non-federal partners and for other purposes.”
Rep. Liz Cheney is concerned that Title III of the bill, which establishes the process for designating the national recreation areas, raises recreation to a higher level than other uses, such as grazing, on public land.
Title III sounds almost like designating certain public lands for wilderness areas. The good part is that the process will be different. The bad part is, what happens to grazing, oil and gas, other energy development, timber and other uses on the designated public lands? In cases like this, grazing, energy and other uses usually lose to recreation.
We all know about some public lands where about the only use is recreation, and for those areas, everyone says, “So what.” We live with it, and no other uses are harmed. Like wilderness areas, these recreation areas will be signed and placed on maps, and recreationists will be drawn to them from all over. The public and private lands surrounding the National Recreation Areas will bear the brunt of the impacts. For those flipping burgers or making beds, it may be good, but this concept may not be so good for ranching, unless you are looking to sell.
To alleviate concerns, Rep. Bishop has said he will work with the committee to amend the bill. If that is true, he has a lot of work ahead of him, especially since Rep. Cheney is watching him and the bill.
The bill says that each system – a recreation area designated – will be managed by the Secretary of either Interior or Agriculture, which would include both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service. It specifies management in a manner that maximizes the protection and enhancement of the remarkable recreational values of the system unit, including natural features that support the recreational experiences.
Well, what about the other public land uses? Or what if there are some federal leased mineral rights? It sounds to me like this bill would have the ability to lock public lands up for a single use, doesn’t it?