Thumbing its nose at Congress is nothing new for BLM

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The BlueRibbon Coalition Public Lands Department released the following statement: The public comment period will close soon on a draft management plan and Travel Plan for the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Moab Field Office. The draft plan is instructive regarding how agenda-driven bureaucrats thumb their nose at Congress's instructions on how federal lands should be managed.

But thumbing their noses at Congress is nothing new for the BLM. Many BRC members remember the "bad old days" of Bruce Babbitt, Department of Interior Secretary under the Clinton/Gore administration. Despite clear instruction in law, Babbitt told Congress to "stuff it" regarding Wilderness inventory and road rights. Babbitt's ill-fated attempt to re-write road policy even drew a stinging rebuke from Congress, who specifically bared him from re-writing BLM's R.S. 2477 policy.

The new crop of BLM Resource Management Plans (RMPs) show the tradition of thumbing its nose at Congress is firmly established, even at the local Field Office level. Moab 's draft plan gives us several object lessons:

In the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), Congress told federal land managers that if they are going to charge fees for recreation, then they have to involve the public and ensure the majority of the funds go back where they are paid. It sounds simple and it is. The BLM has even developed a simple procedure utilizing the existing Resource Advisory Councils to consider fee proposals.

But the Moab Field Office gets around all that pesky public involvement with some darned impressive bureaucratic gymnastics. In the White Wash Sand Dunes area, a popular OHV destination for over 30 years, Moab BLM says it will: "Implement a fee system, using individual Special Recreation Permits, to help fund cost of intensive management of the White Wash Sand Dunes area."

Now, including this much detail in a RMP, which is supposed to be general guidance, is unusual enough, but to specifically mandate that fees will be part of the Special Recreation Permit (SRP) process, is extraordinary. You see, the BLM has a whole chapter in their regulations on SRPs. They've got manuals, handbooks and instruction memos. Not one of them includes anything about involving the public in the establishment of fees. By mandating in the Land Use Plan that any fees at the Dunes be "individual SRPs", the Moab BLM deliberately bypassed a mandate from Congress to involve the public when charging fees for recreation.

Congress also told BLM that "Land use plans of the Secretary shall be consistent with State and local plans to the maximum extent he finds consistent with Federal law..." Local plans include the transportation network of the county road system and BLM has a process to validate road rights-of-ways. Incredibly, Moab BLM says road rights-of-ways are "out of scope" for this plan.

Of all the instruction Congress gave to BLM, it was perhaps the most clear regarding Wilderness. Congress wanted BLM lands inventoried for Wilderness character, set a deadline for completion and even followed through with funding to get it done. What it said it did not want was a never ending, ongoing inventory and review for "lands with wilderness character." Yet, that is exactly what we have in BLM's new management plans. "Oh," the BLM bureaucrats say, "these aren't Wilderness Study Areas, these are 'lands with wilderness character,' so we are really being consistent with Congress." Of course, this is just more bureaucratic gymnastics, as the management of the two is the same.

The R.S. 2477 Roads and the Wilderness character issues are tied up in court right now and besides protecting our rights to intervene in the legal cases, there is not much the public or BRC can do to budge the BLM on these issues.

But the recreational fee issue is another animal altogether. We have a chance now to tell BLM that ignoring Congress's mandate to involve the public on recreational fees will not be tolerated.

Please send an email to the Moab Field Office today and tell them:

  • You do not support an individual SRP program at White Wash.

  • You will not tolerate BLM imposing any fees without full public involvement mandated by the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA).

  • Tell them all other funding sources, including RTP, OHV and other grant programs should be exhausted before any fee program is established.

Send your comments to:
UT_Moab_Comments@blm.gov.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Be sure to include your name and address. Anonymous comments are often discarded!