Leading Member of Congress Calls for Changes in Federal Resource Policies

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Representative Richard Pombo (R - CA), Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources, sharply criticized several of the country’s resource-related laws and policies during remarks at the American Recreation Coalition’s June Recreation Exchange. Mr. Pombo faulted legislation that had been passed by the Congress to protect land areas and endangered species for its significant social costs. He also criticized the federal land-management agencies for their fee programs and funding priorities.

Mr. Pombo, who became Chairman of the influential Resources Committee in January 2003, told the audience of more than 100 recreation community leaders that over the last 30 years, increasing areas of public land had been closed to an increasing number of people. He cited the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 as an example, noting that people who used to visit the desert could no longer do so because they now were physically incapable of carrying the water they would need. The denial of access to such people is "a tragedy," he said. Mr. Pombo also called for a careful review of the impact of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, emphasizing the need to identify a more successful way of recovering species. He faulted the law for trying to pretend that man is not part of the environment. "That [approach] doesn’t really work; anything we do has an impact," he said, adding, "We have to be honest about that and our laws should accept it."

On the subject of recreation fees, which have generated controversy within the Congress, Mr. Pombo did express support both for using fee revenues where they are collected and for giving a multiple-year authorization to fee programs. However, the National Park Service was the only federal land-management agency that he credited with what he termed "proven success" in imposing fees. In addition, he called for the Congress to be very involved in the design of fee structures to ensure that the public’s concerns about fees were addressed properly.

Mr. Pombo expanded his critique of federal agencies to include their funding priorities. "No agency will say they have too much money," he said, describing the federal agencies as trying to increase their size, scope, power and involvement in land-use issues. "There will never be enough money to do what people want to do," he added. Mr. Pombo did not disagree with the agencies that more spending was needed; however, he called for a sharper spending focus. "We need help in developing a federal estate that is user friendly," he said. Money should be spent to provide "the highest benefit to the most people."

Mr. Pombo also commented on the ongoing process, under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, of selling surplus federal lands and investing the proceeds in facilities on the lands that remain in public ownership. The federal government owns a lot of land that "it doesn’t have any business owning," he said. In his view, the federal government should keep land that is environmentally sensitive and needed, and "sell the rest." He also challenged governmental attempts to regulate the management of privately owned land for environmental reasons. "If it’s so important to protect it, buy it," he said. "If it’s so important to protect species, just buy it."

The Recreation Exchange series is made possible by the following sponsors:

American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
Family Campers and RVers
Honda North America
Kampgrounds of America
Motorcycle Industry Council
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Recreation and Park Association
Personal Watercraft Industry Association
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association
USDA Forest Service