Recreation in Politics – Donald Trump

Election DecisionThis is the first article in a series of two that will address what I can discover about positions of the major party candidates that relate to outdoor recreation. First,  let’s see what Donald trump and the Republic Party offer.

Donald Trump Campaign

Donald Trump

By Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Mr. Trump’s campaign website offers his policy positions on seven topics, none of which have much to do with outdoor recreation.  He does oppose any limits on the right to keep and bear arms.  This can be seen as good news to hunters who may fear that the other candidate might have policies that would limit their ability to continue hunting. We’ll see what Ms. Clinton has to say on that topic in my next post.

Without much to consider with Mr. Trump’s policies,  I went through the Republican Party platform that was finalized on July 18.

Republican Party Platform

There are many statements in the Party Platform that run counter to verbal statements of Mr. Trump. So far, it seems that Mr. Trump has not modified his ideas to conform with the platform.  Thus, it’s difficult to predict with any specificity where his administration might lead.  With that caveat,  here are some points from the platform that relate to outdoor recreation.

 

Hunting

RepublicanWith regard to Second Amendment concerns, the focus is on the “God-given right of self-defense for the safety of their homes, their loved ones, and their communities.”  Thus, it lacks any specific relationship to the hunting aspect of outdoor recreation.

 

Natural Resources

The preamble offers this:  “We believe that people are the ultimate resource — and that the people, not the government, are the best stewards of our country’s God-given natural resources.”  The body of the document gets into this in more detail.  Specifically it says: “We are the party of America’s growers, producers, farmers, ranchers, foresters, miners, commercial fishermen, and all those who bring from the earth the crops, minerals, energy, and the bounties of our seas that are the lifeblood of our economy.”

We’ll gloss over the odd disconnect between citizens and the government that seems to run counter to other statements in the platform and the U.S. Constitution.  Nonetheless, it is clear that party does not recognize the major economic contribution of the outdoor recreation industry or it’s relationship to the nation’s natural resources.

 

Public Lands

 

National Forests

The platform specifically addresses the National Forests saying:

USFS ShieldThe U. S. Forest Service, within the Department of Agriculture, controls around 200 million acres of land with enormous natural resources, especially timber, a renewable resource providing jobs for thousands of workers that should be used to the best economic potential for the nation. Many of our national forests are in worsening health with the threat of invasive species, insect mortality, and the severe risk of wildfire. The increase in catastrophic wildfires has been needlessly killing millions of animals and destroying homes and watersheds for decades in the western states. The expense to suppress wildfires related to failed federal forest policies continues to increase. When timber is managed properly, the renewable crops will result in fewer wildfires and, at the same time, produce jobs in the timber industry for countless families. We believe in promoting active, sustainable management of our forests and that states can best manage our forests to improve forest health and keep communities safe.”

Without specifically saying it,  this suggests that the party would like to turn National Forest Lands over to the states for the primary purpose of timber management.  Currently recreation is one of the purposes of National Forests.  A few states may have the financial ability to manage the forests with a focus on timber production, but most do not.  They certainly wouldn’t have the ability to balance outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish as currently required of the Forest Service.  Giving control to the states would likely eliminate the voice that people across the country have over these lands and limit the voice to residents of the state within which the land is located.

Further,  the ‘blame’ attached to the Forest Service seems to ignore the myriad of laws passed under numerous administrations, beginning with Richard Nixon’s, that constrain the ability of the agency to more aggressively manage timber. There are constituencies that have supported these constraints and some are now shifting their positions to allow management that would better address the concerns the party lists.

Increasing focus on timber production, if the party means timber production and not just harvest, can be quite expensive if efforts to increase growth are implemented.  In addition, in some forest types  thinning trees to increase growth in the remaining trees also increases the development of undergrowth that can eventually lead to increased fire hazard.  Underburning or other treatments to keep that hazard at bay are expensive and probably beyond the financial ability of individual states.

 

Minerals and Energy Resources on Public Lands

Oil BarrelsMore generally with respect to public lands the platform states:

  • “we support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration and responsible production, even if these resources will not be immediately developed.”
  • “We support expediting the permitting process for mineral production on public lands.”

In some places,  these changes could have adverse effects upon outdoor recreation opportunities.

 

Land Ownership

The platform says:

“We believe that people are the most valuable resources and that human health and safety are the proper measurements of a policy’s success. We assert that private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while some of the worst instances of degradation have occurred under government.”

“The federal government owns or controls over 640 million acres of land in the United States, most of which is in the West. These are public lands, and the public should have access to them for appropriate activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Federal ownership or management of land also places an economic burden on counties and local communities in terms of lost revenue to pay for things such as schools, police, and emergency services. It is absurd to think that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership or management of official Washington. Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole. The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live. They practice boots-on-the-ground conservation in their states every day. We support amending the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Congress’ right to approve the designation of national monuments and to further require the approval of the state where a national monument is designated or a national park is proposed.”

While the party takes the general position “that private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship” it does seem to accept that some lands could remain public and under federal management.  I find it interesting that the party doesn’t recognize the myriad of other recreational activities from camping and hiking to birdwatching that citizens enjoy on the public lands.  The point about the economic burden on local communities is a well known consequence of the failure to appropriate sufficient payments in lieu of taxes under current legislation.  Returning these lands to private ownership would clearly increase, on a massive scale, the tax income for rural communities particularly in the western states.

Other commentators have pointed out the internal conflicts within the above platform elements.  For example, the statements that these are public lands and the public should have access to them juxtaposed with the notion that these lands should be turned over to the states and that the lands should contribute to local tax bases, something that would only happen if they were privatized. A major problem is that there is no indication of what the party means by “certain federally controlled public lands.”

Conclusion

Mr. Trump has not formulated any policies regarding outdoor recreation.  The Republican Party Platform offers several planks that seem to run counter to those of recreationists that would like to continue to use the public lands and particularly National Forest lands.  As far as land ownership goes,  the party’s proposal seems very conflicted to the point that it is hard to tell what might happen if it was implemented.  This is not particularly unusual for political policies that have not faced Congress or the citizens of the U.S.

Overall, the policies seem to me to be generally hostile to the wide range of recreation activities that are currently available on the public lands.

You are welcome to offer your comments below, but your voice would be more effective if aimed at your Senators and Representatives.  We are not going to recommend one candidate over another, but we do encourage you to vote.

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