How the New Political Landscape Affects Your Public Lands

We are keeping an eye on the decisions made by the Trump Administration and Congress that affect the public lands we protect here on the Central Coast. Information about how the new government is changing the way our public lands are conserved is vital to our mission. We are ready to defend our vision of public lands as places for people to enjoy and explore the outdoors, as safe havens for wildlife, as sources of clean water, and as the long-standing heritage of our nation.

Read below for new updates on what is coming out of Washington, how we plan to respond, and how your voice can be heard. Click here to donate to our Forest Defense Fund. The challenges before us can seem downright overwhelming. But with your participation and support, we’ll have the resources necessary to fight back and defend our region’s public lands in the halls of Congress, in the courts, in the press, and in the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans who value and enjoy our public lands. Now is our time to speak up and get involved.

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February 14, 2017

Bill Introduced to Eliminate Law Enforcement Functions of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management

We mentioned this issue a couple of weeks ago, but we wanted to provide some more information about what it means and how you can help. Last month, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced H.R. 622, which would eliminate Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officers, and place their workload onto local sheriff departments who are already struggling to keep up with their workloads in our communities. It would mean less law enforcement presence – not more – in the Los Padres National Forest. That would translate into more lawlessness and degradation of natural resources, and would make our forests less safe to visit and enjoy.

Forest Service law enforcement officers are best equipped to handle the job, in cooperation with local sheriffs. They are most familiar with remote areas of our forests and the federal laws that ensure these places are kept safe. We support them, and see Rep. Chaffetz’s bill as a misguided attempt to wrest control of federal public lands. It is no coincidence that he introduced this bill on the same day that he introduced HR 621, which would sell of federal public lands in his home state of Utah to private development interests. He ultimately withdrew this ugly piece of legislation due to overwhelming public outcry, and we urge him to similarly withdraw HR 622.

Congress should focus on providing our federal law enforcement officers with the tools and funding they need to address critical issues facing our forests, like illegal marijuana plantations, wildfire hazards, motorized trespass, graffiti, litter, and environmental crimes. Stripping them of their authority is an affront to the rule of law on our public lands.

What We’re Doing

The bill was referred to House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Agriculture late last month. The bill was then moved to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands (Natural Resources) and the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry (Agriculture) a few days ago. Neither committee has scheduled a hearing for the bill yet. We will continue monitoring its movement through the House.

What You Can Do

Contact the House Subcommittees to which the bill has been referred. You can write a letter to the each subcommittee to let them know that you do not support this bill:

Attn: Subcommittee on Federal Lands
House Committee on Natural Resources
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Attn: Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry
House Committee on Agriculture
1301 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

You can also contact Rep. Chaffetz’ office by calling (801) 851-2500 or (202) 225-7751 to let him know that you support the safety provided by Forest Service and BLM law enforcement officers on our nation’s public lands, and urge him to withdraw H.R. 622.


February 7, 2017

House Votes to Eliminate BLM Planning Rules

Congress today voted to repeal new regulations governing how the U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees 245 million acres of public lands, including the Carrizo Plain National Monument and thousands of acres adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest. The BLM regulations — dubbed Planning 2.0 — were issued late last year to modernize management plans for federal public lands. House Republicans argued that the new Planning 2.0 rule would eliminate state and local input, even though the rule actually improves public participation and transparency. Congress could have passed a minor tweak to the rule, but today’s vote seeks to obliterate the rule in its entirety.

To unravel the planning rule, Republicans are invoking an arcane law called the Congressional Review Act that allows Congress to review and overturn any regulation finalized within the last 60 days of a previous presidency. The vote was mostly along party lines.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) authored the House resolution, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) along with 16 other Republicans introduced a similar measure in the Senate. After likely Senate approval, the matter will go to President Trump, who issued a brief statement today in opposition to Planning 2.0. Once the President signs the resolution, the new rules become null and void and BLM will revert back to its outdated and inefficient 1983 regulations.

What We’re Doing

ForestWatch joined 17 conservation organizations on behalf of millions of members from around the country supporting the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule and opposing the House resolution. We have also added our name to a similar letter to the Senate, to be delivered next week.

What You Can Do

Call your Senators (each state has two of ’em). Tell them that you support our nation’s public lands, and urge them to oppose S.J. Res. 15.


Trump Announces Supreme Court Nominee

President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the empty seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Gorsuch currently serves on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the son of Reagan-era U.S. EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford. While Gorsuch’s record is relatively light on environmental cases, he has consistently ruled against environmental and outdoors advocates on procedural issues. In 2013, he argued that environmental groups should not be allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed by off-road vehicle groups in the Santa Fe National Forest

In 2013, Judge Neil Gorsuch dissented from his colleagues on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who allowed environmental groups to intervene in a lawsuit over off-highway vehicles in the Santa Fe National Forest. In 2015, he ruled that a sportsmen’s group did not have legal standing to challenge an order allowing off-road vehicles on certain trails in the San Juan National Forest. He also joined an opinion in 2011 dismissing environmental actions in another case challenging opening up of federal land to off-highway vehicle use. On the flip side, Judge Gorsuch is a fly-fisherman and enjoys the outdoors. His confirmation hearing could be scheduled anytime within the next few months.


February 6, 2017

Senators Introduce Bill to Strip Federal Oversight of Oil Drilling & Fracking

Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) introduced S. 316, the “Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act” to give states primary authority over energy development on federal public lands. The legislation would prevent federal regulations governing oil drilling and fracking from taking precedence over state law, even if those state laws are weaker than federal standards.

Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla) likewise reintroduced a pair of bills this week aimed at giving individual states the sole decision-making authority over energy sources within their boundaries – S. 335, the “Federal Land Freedom Act” and S. 334, the “Fracturing Regulations Are Effective in State Hands Act.”

The bills were all referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. House Republicans also introduced similar measures this week.


February 3, 2017

Bill Introduced to Ease Environmental Restrictions on Logging & Clearing Projects

Congressman Tom McClintock (R-California) introduced legislation today to ease environmental restrictions on logging projects targeting trees affected by insect infestation and disease. The legislation – H.R. 865 – would exclude projects from environmental review whenever a loosely-defined “state of emergency” is declared. To offset the estimated annual costs of $300 million, the bill proposes requiring the Department of Agriculture to sell off timber within five years. These revenue-generating projects would also be excluded from environmental review.

The bill would reduce public input on these projects and eliminate the ability of groups like ForestWatch to file objections prior to filing a lawsuit challenging a particular project based on environmental grounds. The bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.


House Votes to Rescind Methane Waste Regulations on Federal Land

Today, the House voted to rescind a regulation issued in the waning hours of the Obama administration that would have eliminated leaks and waste of methane at oil drilling sites on federal lands. This practice is common in the Sespe Oil Field in the Los Padres National Forest.

The regulation being targeted would crack down on leaks of methane from natural gas wells on federal land. It would also restrict flaring, the practice by which drillers burn off excess natural gas produced at drilling sites.

The House resolution (H.J.Res. 36) was sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, along with 40 other Republican senators. Its passage was applauded by the oil industry. The Senate is poised to approve a similar resolution (S.J. Res. 11) sponsored by Rep. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with 14 other Republican senators. That vote will take place next week.

What We’re Doing

ForestWatch joined 75 public health and conservation organizations on behalf of millions of members from around the country supporting the methane waste regulations and opposing the House resolution. We have also added our name to a similar letter to the Senate, to be delivered next week.

What You Can Do

Call your Senators (each state has two of ’em). Tell them that you support our nation’s public lands, and urge them to oppose S.J. Res. 11.


February 1, 2017

Idea Floated to Move Forest Service to Department of Interior

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) is resurrecting an old idea to move the Forest Service out of the Department of Agriculture. Zinke, President Trump’s pick to lead the Interior Department, has told senators he’s interested in transferring the Forest Service from USDA to Interior, where the forest agency’s predecessor resided before 1905. The Interior Department also houses other federal land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (which manages National Monuments and other public lands) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (which manages National Wildlife Refuges).


January 31, 2017

Today marks the 12th day of the new Trump presidency and the fourth week of the new Congress. While every new administration brings a changing set of values (and threats) to our nation’s public lands, we’ve already seen enough to know that the next four years are going to be a long, tough fight for our public lands. ForestWatch is up to the task of fighting back, from the halls of DC to the Central Coast. We’ll bring you occasional updates on how the changing political climate is affecting our region’s public lands.

Here’s a brief look at what has transpired over the last 12 days that impacts the Los Padres National Forest and other public lands right here on the Central Coast:

On Day One, the new Congress put a procedure in place to make it easier to transfer or sell off public lands.

One of Congress’ first orders of business was to quietly enact a new procedure that will make it easier for them to pass future legislation to transfer or sell off your public lands. The change would make it easier from a budgetary standpoint to reduce the federal government’s land holdings.

Trump announced a hiring freeze throughout the federal government — including agencies charged with managing our public lands and wildlife. 

Trump signs exectuive order freezing new federal hires. Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.

Trump signs exectuive order freezing new federal hires. Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.

On January 23, Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum stating, “I hereby order a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board.” This hiring freeze affects public lands agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service (which manages the Los Padres National Forest), the Bureau of Land Management (which manages the Carrizo Plain National Monument), and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (the agency charged with managing the Hopper Mountain and Bitter Creek wildlife refuges, along with endangered species like the California condor), all of which have already been victims of repeated budget cuts for decades. The Los Padres National Forest budget is diminished, and most of what’s left goes to fighting wildfires each year rather than maintaining trails, roads, and campgrounds as well as keeping fees affordable. Now, positions that are open at the national forest will not be filled, and it’s likely that they will face even more budget cuts over the next several years.

We contacted these agencies to ask how the hiring freeze would affect their operations. The Forest Service stated that their non-fire staff have been reduced nearly 50% since 2008 (from 102 to 66), leaving a skeleton crew to manage nearly two million acres of public land. Three dozen positions, including a hydrologist, archaeologist, and other natural resource and recreation positions will remain vacant under the hiring freeze. The BLM has seven full-time positions devoted to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, but one of them will remain vacant under the hiring freeze. The FWS has one vacant position in its California Condor Recovery Program that will remain vacant. We are still awaiting a response from BLM’s Bakersfield Field Office.

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue nominated to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture.

President Trump has nominated Sonny Perdue to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture, the top position in the Department of Agriculture, the umbrella agency for the U.S. Forest Service. His stance on the management of national forests is unclear. Perdue must be confirmed by the Senate before taking the reins, but a hearing has not yet been scheduled.

We will also be closely monitoring the selection of the Department’s Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the Forest Service Chief, two positions that set policy for national forests. The Undersecretary must also be confirmed by the Senate. It is vitally important to have these positions filled by folks who understand the value of protecting our public lands, not exploiting them for profits.

Trump also announced a federal regulatory freeze that halts any new regulations, including those necessary to protect clean air and water and properly manage our public lands.

Trump promised to scale back environmental and other regulations once in office, and he has wasted no time in doing so. Yesterday, he issued an Executive Order that requires all agencies to withdraw two regulations for every new regulation on the books.

The administration silenced public communications from agencies such as the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The stifling of communication between the agencies that manage public lands and affect public health and the citizens of the U.S. is alarming and unprecedented. Some public land managers are speaking out by launching underground sites on Facebook and Twitter that are not subject to Trump’s gag order. Some of these directives were withdrawn following public outcry, and ForestWatch will continue to demand transparency when it comes to new management decisions regarding our national forest.

Congress Takes Aim at the Environment

In its first month, bills have been introduced in Congress that would severely undermine our country’s system of national parks, forests, and monuments. Here’s a sampling of what’s coming down the pipeline:

  • A bill was introduced to hinder the President’s authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. The Central Coast boasts two national monuments — the Carrizo Plain National Monument and the California Coastal National Monument.
  • Legislation was introduced to strip the authority of Forest Service law enforcement officers, placing it instead into the hands of local sheriff departments which do not have the experience or resources to manage millions of acres of remote land.
  • Attempts to roll back regulations passed in the waning hours of the Obama administration, including a regulation that would prevent oil companies from burning off (“flaring”) natural gas on public lands, a regulation that seeks to protect streams and rivers, and a rule requiring stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards for oil and gas drilling facilities.

The White House released its America First Energy Plan, which emphasizes oil drilling and fracking on public lands.

An oil well is drilled as part of a fracking operation in the Sespe Oil Field.

An oil well is drilled as part of a fracking operation in the Sespe Oil Field.

Within hours of the Presidential Inauguration, the White House released its “America First Energy Plan” that relies heavily on giving the oil industry more access to our public lands. The plan identifies a need to “take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own.” The plan is silent on pursuing alternative energy sources that would secure our nation’s energy independence while protecting the environment.