By Jesse Juen
The seasons seem to change so fast to me now. I am not sure why but I am looking forward to spring and summer. I also know that with warming temperatures and winds our fire season is gearing up again. Although Interior was a few weeks behind the Department of Agriculture in getting the green light to move forward with hiring seasonals, it looks like BLM is getting these positions on board. This is particularly important for the Southwestern parts of the U.S. as they tend to kick off the fire season in March/April.
Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has been sworn in and is now on board. PLF sent a letter to his office introducing our organization and offering to provide expertise, knowledge and assistance from our cadre of experienced folks. I hope to be able to meet with him this April while back in D.C. Interior will not have its full complement of politicals on board by then but it will be important to connect with the transition team so they know what we offer as well as our desire to keep public lands in public hands.
There has been an amazing amount of legislative activity regarding public lands, particularly on the House side. This is not unusual with a change in Administration. However, new to me is use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), an oversight tool that Congress may use to overturn a rule issued in the final weeks of an outgoing Administration. The CRA was signed into law as part of the 1996 Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, and directs agencies to report on their rulemaking activities to Congress; it also provides Congress a special set of procedures under which to consider legislation to overturn those rules.
Congress used the CRA to eliminate the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rules issued December 1, 2016, thus falling within the timeframe of rules subject to Congressional evaluation under the CRA. Many groups, including PLF, worked hard to thwart the CRA and allow the Secretary of the Interior to establish a process improvement to build on the many good things Planning 2.0 created. I am hopeful that with Secretary Zinke now in place, Congress will allow him to work on improvements or changes to other BLM rules if need be. Without doubt, the current use of the CRA will serve as a reminder to future Administrations of the importance of completing rule-makings in a timely manner.
Budget reductions may be significant for Interior this fiscal year but at this point we don’t know how much or what percentage the final reductions might be. PLF will however, be submitting a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration in their deliberations as it relates to the BLM. As most of us understand, the more you bolster our defense budgets the domestic budget side takes the brunt of the impacts.
For the PLF and the BLM there are silver linings to dark budget clouds. One of which is the new environment has created a rapidly expanding relationship between PLF and many other groups that cherish our Public Lands, including the recreational and energy industries, as well as the conservation and environmental communities. I know that some of these groups may seem to be at odds with each other and it may be that way in certain areas but all of them have a vested interest in sustaining public lands in public hands. I hope we can build strong relationships with all of them and unify them to support keeping public lands in public hands, keeping our public lands healthy, and keeping our public lands productive for our communities, states and the Nation.
The path forward will be very challenging but we are equal to it! We can best support the BLM by increasing our membership, establishing new partnerships, developing a focused mission, strengthening alliances with the private sector, supporting BLM’s multiple-use mission and promoting community economic growth. Together, these will help support the BLM’s unique multiple-use mission that fosters economic growth through traditional activities on the public lands, as well as recreation and conservation.
The PLF Board and I appreciate the tremendous generosity and great help we have already received this year from our state leads and members and hope to expand our efforts to effectively meet our growing needs to others within and outside the PLF.
Have a wonderful Spring and enjoy your public lands!