Policy Update Feb 6, 2018

Testimony: H.R. 857, California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act

Written testimony by David Lamfrom, Director of California Desert and Wildlife Programs, for the Federal Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Dear Chairman McClintock and Ranking Member Hanabusa,

Since 1919, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. On behalf of our more than 1.3 million members and supporters nationwide, I thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony regarding H.R. 857, Representative Cook’s California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act. Founded in 1919, NPCA is the leading independent voice supporting, promoting, protecting and enhancing America’s national parks for present and future generations.

The California desert is world renowned for its vast and scenic landscapes. It is home to five of the nation’s most iconic national park sites (Castle Mountains, Death Valley, Manzanar, Mojave, and Joshua Tree); four remarkable national monuments, and many famous Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wilderness areas; it frames the sheer vertical prominence of the Eastern Sierra; and is home to a spectacular diversity of natural and geologic features. These include sand dunes, natural limestone cave systems, lava flows and lava tubes, rugged desert mountains, forests of Joshua trees and yucca, cactus gardens, multi-colored mountains, wild and scenic rivers, and even stone arches and hoodoos. This richness has long drawn residents from urban areas to the California desert, and increasingly, visitors from around the world are traveling here to enjoy our open spaces, welcoming communities, and spectacular natural resources. Joshua Tree National Park has reported that they expect over three million visitors this year, up from 1.6 million in 2014. Visitation to public lands is a significant economic engine in the California desert.

Like S.32, Senator Feinstein’s California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017, the provisions represented in H.R. 857 would build on momentum for desert conservation, as heightened designations would certainly attract more economic activity. The conservation and recreation provisions found within H.R. 857 represent components of previous legislation from both Senator Feinstein and Congressman Cook that for years attempted to legislate new national monuments and more thoughtful and comprehensive management of California desert lands. Three of the provisions within those past pieces of legislation were designated as new national monuments in 2016, and both S.32 and H.R. 857 have been reintroduced in order to move forward the remaining, unfinished provisions.

We appreciate Congressman Cook’s proposal to increase the protection of hundreds of thousands of acres of remarkable public lands and waters across the California desert. We are encouraged that there is agreement by our most prominent elected officials that the public lands identified by S. 32 and H.R. 857 are universally known to be of such quality and value that they deserve to be protected for the benefit of our residents and to be shared with the millions of tourists who visit our deserts each year.

As such, NPCA supports the conservation provisions within H.R. 857 and recognizes there must be dedicated spaces for the off-road community to legally ride off-road vehicles. NPCA has worked in partnership with communities and elected officials across the California desert for nearly a decade on many of the provisions in this legislation. As a result of our longstanding investment in this landscape, NPCA has some concerns about the following provisions in H.R. 857:

  • H.R. 857 proposes the reduction of the Bowling Alley addition of Wilderness to Death Valley National Park, to 28,000 acres rather than the 32,500 acres found in S. 32. This reduction is primarily focused on providing vehicular access to the Avawatz Mountains, an area proposed as designated Wilderness in H.R. 857. This proposed reduction to Death Valley National Park is not consistent with the management regime in the area nor the protection of resources in and around the proposed expansion of Death Valley National Park and proposed Wilderness found in this legislation.

  • H.R. 857 does not protect Mojave National Preserve’s water resources from export. Such a provision is widely supported across the California desert; the protection of Mojave National Preserve’s water resources is a key issue for wildlife, Native American tribes, ranchers, local communities, such as Needles, CA, and rural landowners in the East Mojave.

  • H.R. 857 does not include an important provision to direct the Department of Interior to study the impact of climate change to California desert migratory species, and thereafter to incorporate those results in the consideration of future right-of-way decisions. This provision is included in S.32.

  • We are concerned with the exemption of the Great Falls Basin Wilderness from designation as a Class I Airshed under the Clean Air Act. We believe the Great Falls Basin Wilderness meets the fundamental standards for this more protective designation.

  • H.R. 857 requires the BLM to study at least 52,000 acres of their lands in the California Desert for possible addition to the proposed National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Areas and that the Secretary approve the addition of any recommended lands. We would like to see this expansion language broadened to include standards that clearly preclude harm to sensitive lands or species.

We appreciate the opportunity H.R. 857 presents to discuss the terrific conservation opportunities in the California desert. Thank you for the chance to provide comments for the committee on this important legislation.