The ORBA Board of Directors hosted a Town Hall meeting at the 2014 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. A number of industry representatives attended the open forum event, which included Wade Garrett, District Director with Congressman Jason Chaffetz. Mr. Garrett highlighted recent efforts in the U.S. Congress to support the management of public lands that balances protection with responsible recreational opportunities. Three specific issues were discussed: the Utah Public Lands Initiative, National Monuments and Endangered Species Act reforms. The following is a brief summary.
· U.S. Representatives Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz & Chris Stewart have launched the “Utah Public Lands Initiative.” Most of central and eastern Utah is public land managed by the federal government. For decades, designations such as “wilderness study areas” have left the final status of the land in question. For example, the environmental community wants President Obama to designate 1.4 million acres of land as the “Greater Canyonlands National Monument” and close 1,050 miles of OHV routes. The three Utah lawmakers are working with stakeholders to reach consensus on how to permanently protect the resources while providing multiple-use opportunities that are critically important to local economies. Participants include representatives from the OHV community, conservation groups, industry, non-governmental organizations, county, state and federal leaders. If successful, a final solution would be crafted in the form of federal legislation. The lawmakers issued a Utah Public Lands Status Report in November 2013.
· On March 26, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1459, the “Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act.” Currently, the President has the authority to declare a parcel of public land with “historic or scientific interest” to be a National Monument. Such a designation can lead to road closures for motorized recreation, among other impacts. HR 1459 would place limits on that authority. The President could declare a monument less than 5,000 acres, but that declaration would need Congressional approval within three years. A larger parcel of land would require a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study, thereby ensuring public input. HR 1459 will now be considered by the United States Senate. (Sample action alert below.)
· Despite agreeing that the law is flawed, Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked on how to update the 40-year-old Endangered Species Act (ESA). Four bills to reform aspects of the law (HR 4315, 4316, 4317 & 4318) have been introduced but face an uphill battle in Congress. The bills would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release data used to make listings of threatened or endangered animals and plants, report how much money is spent on ESA-related lawsuits, and place a cap on plaintiff attorney reimbursement fees. Other reform efforts would focus on establishing smaller recovery zones rather than simply setting aside millions of acres of land that unnecessarily deprive the OHV community access to roads and trails with little benefit to the plants and animals. The current national debate is on whether to extend protection to the prairie chicken and sage grouse. The territory for the birds spans at least 11 western states and millions of acres of federal and private lands.
The Board thanked everyone for attending the ORBA Town Hall meeting and was very appreciative of Mr. Garrett’s participation.