Emergency Economic Stabilization Act Includes Money for Counties and Timber Harvesting
Counties with National Forests or BLM lands will get to divide up to $500 million per year (reduced in each subsequent years) in a provision in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. These payments will come from appropriations, fees and receipts or the Treasury. Payments to counties is not a new concept. This Act, however, allows Resource Advisory Committees (RACs) to determine funding for special projects in instances where payments to counties exceed traditional purposes or if counties elect to use part of their funding for special projects. If the unallocated fees collected by the Forest Service and BLM are less than the $500 million required for payments to counties, the remaining funds will probably come from the Treasury. However, if Congress decided to stop the ever increasing run on Treasury funds, fees on activities in National Forests and on BLM lands could be used to fulfill these payments to counties.
One Forest Service budget official said the agency only generates about $168 million in fee receipts that can be used for payments to counties. Last year total payments to counties from the Forest Service alone were $430 million (which we think must include PILT payments). Over $800 million is generated from fees and receipts by the Forest Service, but most of it is dedicated to trusts or payments to Interior, which manages the minerals program, and cannot be used to fund payments to counties. So, the agency will never have enough fee money to make the payments to counties described in the bill ($500 million). Hopefully, the money will come from the Treasury, as it has in the past, so that massive fee increases are not required.
Resource Advisory Committees (RAC’s) and a provision for them to propose “special projects” are also in the legislation. RAC’s may use private funds and any unused portions of payments to counties to fund special projects. The bill specifies increasing the portion of those projects to produce “merchantable” timber. 50% of the special projects after FY 2009 will include timber harvesting. Other projects may also include restoration, fish and wildlife enhancements and protection of private land. Payments to counties may be used to cover NEPA and other costs associated with these special projects. The make-up of the RACS require that 5 members come from organized labor, developed recreation, off highway vehicle users, commercial recreation, fishing interests, and timber groups AND 5 members from local and national environmental groups, dispersed recreation, or cultural and historical groups, AND 5 representatives from local, state governments, tribes or the general public.
U.S. District Court Reinterprets the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court, DC Circuit, recently issued a ruling in a case that alters the interpretation of the 1916 NPS Organic Act in a way that may greatly restrict or curtail recreational activities in National Parks. First, the Court concluded that the 1916 Act does not allow “enjoyment for its own sake or even enjoyment of the parks generally” (id. at 19) even though the statute plainly states “enjoyment” is a fundamental purpose of parks. Second, the Court holds that if a visitor activity has any “adverse impact” on park resources, the activity can be allowed only if “necessary and appropriate to fulfill the purposes of the park.”
Fishing groups are concerned that angling may be curtailed if it is not a specific purpose of the Park. Similarly, climbing, kayak touring, cycling and horseback riding could be subject to challenge unless recreation or those activities are a purpose for which a Park was established.
Prior to the ruling NPS had the authority to prohibit visitor activities that impaired park resources. NPS had broad discretion in making these resource impact determinations. The District Court Opinion inappropriately second-guesses the agency’s expert determinations and in doing so, drops the impairment threshold so low that many traditional visitor uses may be banned if the Court’s new threshold is allowed to stand.
The ruling applies to all activities in National Parks, not just commercial or motorized uses. The ruling came in the case regarding the winter use plan for snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. Like many Parks, Yellowstone was established before the advent of many current recreation activities. Parks may now have to ban those uses if they are challenged.
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