WASHINGTON — Representatives of outdoor recreation and conservation groups see both potential and peril in a new advisory committee being created by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
The former Navy SEAL and congressman from Montana, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the department that oversees agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is creating a “Made in America” recreation advisory committee.
According to a news release, the goal of the committee is to expand access and improve infrastructure on public land and waterways by harnessing innovation of the private sector.
“The spirit of American innovation and ingenuity is what built our country, and the Interior Department wants that same spirit and energy to resonate within the realm of outdoor recreation on our public lands,” Zinke said in the release. “By forming this committee, I look forward to hearing from the best and the brightest in our private sector on how to improve the public experience on our federal lands and waters by expanding access for all Americans. We already have thousands of private partners who operate on federal lands. Whether it’s the iconic Jammers in Glacier National Park, the historic El Tovar lodge at the Grand Canyon, or the kayaks that you can rent on the Potomac River, American workers are at the heart of helping American families experience our great outdoors.”
The release included enthusiastic comments from two Republican members of Congress who identify themselves as fans of recreational vehicles.
“America’s abundance and beauty is something to be both preserved and admired,” said Rep. Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla. “As an RV enthusiast, I have been able to experience firsthand the glorious landscape of our great nation, and am thankful for those American entrepreneurs and innovators who think of new ways to experience what our country has to offer. I hope that with their guidance, more Americans will be able to witness the vast bounty of our land, from sea to shining sea.”
Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., said her district is the “RV capital of the world.”
“I’m pleased Secretary Zinke is launching the ‘Made in America’ Recreation Advisory Committee to help achieve the important goals of increasing access to our nation’s public lands, boosting investment in outdoor tourism, and building more American-made products like RVs and boats.”
Committee members will be chosen for the diverse backgrounds in outdoor industries, according to the news release.
Paul Sanford, national director of recreation policy for the Wilderness Society at Washington, D.C., said he doesn’t object to the committee, but doesn’t want it to be overpopulated with people who represent recreational vehicles and motorized recreation.
“I hope it will be an inclusive group that also involves human-powered recreation, which is a significant part of the user community,” Sanford said. “It’s not just RVers. The human-powered recreation community deserves a seat at the table as well.”
Sanford said there is room for private-public partnerships when it comes to managing public land, and pointed to the Youth Conservation Corps as an example of non-governmental groups helping agencies with work backlogs, such as trail maintenance. But he is also leery of any attempts to lean too far in the direction of commercialization of public lands or steep user fees. Zinke has separately proposed dramatically raising entrance fees at some national parks.
“We get nervous when we see excessive privatization of public land and transformation of public land into private enterprises that can price people out of them,” he said. “That is when we start to push back.”
Sandra Mitchell of the Idaho Recreation Council embraced the idea and said the committee could help ensure all user groups, both motorized and non-motorized, are treated equally.
“This will bring people who are out in the field to the table and bring their experiences to share and discuss. I think it will make for better management.
Her group has advocated against rules and regulations that restrict motorized access to federal land and said all-terrain vehicle riders, snowmobilers and motorcyclists often get blamed for having a greater impact than hikers and bikers.
“We need a level playing field that will manage for better management,” she said.
Grant Simonds, government affairs liaison for the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association at Boise, said there are a number of issues the committee could address. For example, he said outfitters are excluded from operating on some BLM wilderness study areas in southern Idaho, even though they can operate in areas that have been designated wilderness.
“If this committee were to take up an issue like that, that would conceivably increase outfitted access on lands,” he said.
Simonds also said he would welcome the group working on trail maintenance issues.
According to the news release, the committee will make recommendations on policies and programs that expand or improve recreational infrastructure through public-private partnerships, “implement sustainable operations embracing fair, efficient and convenient fee collection and strategic use of fees,” improved interpretation and creating tools to help Americans “discover their lands and waters.”
Nominations to the committee can be submitted to Terry Austin, associate director for business services, National Park Service, Office of Business Services, 1849 C St. N.W., MS 2717, Washington, D.C. 20240; or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.