Okanagan Outfitters Get Nod for Permits after Completion of EIS
It has been 10 years and thousands of pages in the making but the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest just reached a record of decision authorizing 10-year term special use permits for pack and saddle stock outfitter guides on the Methow, Chelan, and Tonasket Ranger Districts with a maximum of 6,700 service days. Permits will be issued to Cascade Corrals, Cascade Wilderness Outfitters, Deli Llama Wilderness Adventures, Early Winters Outfitting, North Cascade Outfitters, North Cascade Safaris, and Sawtooth Outfitters. The Forest recently completed a nearly 600 page full-Environment Impact Statement covering the issues prior to issuing the permits. Fortunately, cost recovery did not apply because the process was started before cost recovery was authorized, and it would have put the permit holders out of business. The processes required to issue these permits would have cost permittees hundreds of thousands of dollars. The decision holds open the opportunity for issuance of other permits provided the number of service days is not exceeded. The decision is subject to appeal.
Grand Teton Lowers Insurance Requirements for Float Trip Operators
After further review by NPS Grand Teton National Park float trips operators received notice March 27th by Federal Express that their liability insurance requirements have been lowered from $5 million per occurrence to $2 million per occurrence and $2 million aggregate. Limits for guided fishing were lowered to $1 million per occurrence and $1 million aggregate. Liability insurance limits for contracts in each National Park are evaluated separately, so these limits may or may not reflect limits in other Parks for similar activities. AOA and WOGA along with a contingent of AOA members have worked hard to obtain reasonable liability insurance requirements for adventure recreation activities in National Parks. We appreciate the National Park Service’s consideration in reviewing the issue. The limits are still higher than we think are necessary for float trips, but at least they are lower than originally required in the contract. We are especially grateful to the members of Congress who showed an interest in the issue. Representative Bishop held a hearing in the House of Representatives last August and other members of Congress including Senators Pryor, Boozman and Hatch have been actively engaged in this issue. NPS is still requiring high limits in some Parks for some activities, so the issue has not yet gone away entirely.
Legislation Proposes State Management over Chunks of National Forests
H.R. 1294, introduced by a group of western House Republicans, proposes to put broad swaths of National Forests under the control of state governors. The bill requires governor’s in states where National Forests abound, to appoint a four member Board of Trustees in each state to oversee “community forest demonstration areas”. Areas must be at least 200,000 square acres.
The goal of the legislation is to restore economically beneficial uses to National Forests. Funding for counties under the so-called Secure Rural Schools legislation, which provides funding to counties with sizeable tracts of land in National Forests, runs out this year. Congressional leaders in both parties are looking for solutions to the loss of funding. Counties have generally received 25% of the fee revenue from commercial activities, such as logging and other permitted activities, but those receipts have diminished significantly with the decline of timber harvesting in National Forests.
Under the proposed legislation the Board of Trustees would designate tracts of Forests equal to at least 200,000 acres as “community forest demonstration areas” and provide management of the areas (including authorizations for timber harvesting, restoration, trail maintenance) under the following conditions:
• the states have a law or regulatory structure to oversee forest practices for State and privately owned forests;
• Wilderness and areas where removal of vegetation is prohibited by Federal law are excluded from inclusion in demonstration areas;
• The state and county have an agreement under Title I of the Secure Rural Schools and County Self-Determination Act of 2000, which has a formula for giving the counties 25% of the fees generated by timber harvesting and similar projects in National Forests.
The proposed Board of Trustees would be appointed by the governor in each state, giving him functional control of the National Forests areas chosen by the Board as community forest demonstration areas. The bill proposes that the Board of Trustees be appointed by the governor to designate “community forest demonstration areas” within National Forests, subject to the provisions in the law. Technically the Secretary of Agriculture has to authorize the action but the law seems to require him to follow the decision of the state’s Trust within 60 days.
The Board would
• include: one county official holding elected office, one representative from commercial forest products industry, one member holding grazing or other permits, and one member from the recreation community;
• have “all” management authority over the areas designated by the Board once the Secretary confirms the land meets the bills requirements which must occur within 60 days;
• be subject to state laws with a few exceptions.
The bill appears to limit application of NEPA to Board actions and projects in the demonstration areas but the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and “Other Federal laws” would still be applicable. (Some clarification would be required here on what “other Federal laws apply”.)
What happens to outfitter permits in “community forest demonstration areas”? The bill specifically prohibits impacts on public use and recreation. So it is hard to know at this point if outfitted activities would still fall under Forest Service permits or would be taken up as part of Trust activities. If the Trust takes over management of outfitted uses as it appears would occur, then outfitters passing the through state controlled area to reach a designated wilderness would have to get two authorizations, one from the Trust and one from the Forest Service unless some kind of cooperative agreement was set-up. How the Trust would issue permits is uncertain.
Don’t get too wound up about this bill just yet. H.R. 1294 has been referred to the Agriculture Committee and the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives. Changes are expected but even then one website tracking legislation gives it a 4% chance of being enacted into law although it has a higher chance of getting out of the House of Representatives.
Sponsors of H.R. 1294 include Representatives Labrado, Amodel, Gosar, McClintock, Pearce and Young.
Increases in Health Insurance Premiums for Some Are Projected for 2014
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged this week that premiums are likely to increase for men and young adults as a result of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She said some of the premium increase will shift from women and older adults to men and younger adults because of the limitations in variables on older adults imposed by the Act. For example, prior to passage of the ACA and its full implementation in 2014, premiums for older adults could be up to 5 times higher based on age factors alone. The Affordable Care Act reduced that factor to 3 times, which means that younger adults will have to contribute more to the pool of revenue covering claims to make up the difference.
Some healthcare insurers are warning of dramatically higher premiums. (So, what else is new). Aetna and United Health Care in meetings with their brokers have predicted sharp rises in premiums for 2014. If you are eligible for a subsidy on your health insurance premium, some of these projected increases will be eliminated or diminished.
The complexity of the law is going to create some rough spots in implementation especially for individuals who have to buy coverage through the federal exchanges. The federal government is going to have to hire and train thousands employees while the rules are still being finalized.
Professional consultants and payroll services dealing with the complexity of the new law are also predicting challenges for seasonal employers, especially those with a substantial number of seasonal workers who have an additional complement of full-time staff. The calculations necessary to determine the number of full-time employees require employers to factor in hours for part-time employees. Employers with 50 or more full-time equivalents (FTE’s) working more than 30 hours per week are required to offer coverage or pay a penalty. But there are regulations which reduce an employer’s exposure such a 90 day administrative period and a 12 month look back period for seasonal workers. During the first two years, employers will be able to average hours worked by seasonal employees over 12 months which will reduce the average hours worked by many outfitters’ seasonal workers to under 30 hours. Outfitters who pay by the trip or by the day will have to account for hours worked in their records.