NPCA submitted the following positions to members of the SenateEnergy and Natural Resources Committee ahead of a Business Meeting scheduled for October 2, 2018.
S. 32 / H.R. 857: California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act – 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.
S. 32 proposes a thoughtful balance of responsible land-use management and opportunities for recreation and conservation. The California desert has long drawn residents from urban areas, and increasingly, visitors from around the world come to enjoy the desert’s open spaces, welcoming communities, and spectacular natural resources. Joshua Tree National Park alone recorded over 2.8 million visitors in 2017, up from 2 million in 2015, making these public lands a significant economic engine for desert counties. In fact, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Mojave combined to contribute 285 million dollars to California desert economies and communities.
NPCA supports S. 32 and portions of H.R. 857 (Sec. 1301 and 1302 of Sec. 2, Title XIV of Sec. 2, and Sec. 5) to increase the protection of hundreds of thousands of acres of remarkable public lands and waters across the California desert. Furthermore, NPCA 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 the following concerns about H.R. 857:
- H.R. 857 would reduce the Bowling Alley addition to Death Valley National Park, to nearly 29,000 acres rather than the 32,500 acres found in S. 32. This reduction is 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.
- H.R. 857 does not protect Mojave National Preserve’s water resources from export. This is a key issue for wildlife, Native American tribes, ranchers, local communities, such as Needles, CA, and rural landowners in the East Mojave and is widely supported across the California desert.
- 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.
- We are concerned with the exemption of the Great Falls Basin Wilderness from designation as a Class I Airshed under the Clean Air Act that appears in both bills. We believe the Great Falls Basin Wilderness meets the fundamental standards for this more protective designation.
S. 483: Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act – NPCA supports this legislation to designate wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in Washington state. This bill protects the ecosystems and recreational opportunities around Olympic National Park, including trail systems, habitats and vistas. The river protections will create essential connections for salmon between the mountains and the sea, especially along the Elwha River which is a world-class river restoration project within the park’s largest watershed.
S. 569: Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act – NPCA supports this legislation, which would provide permanent reauthorization and dedicated funding for LWCF at its fully authorized amount of $900 million annually. LWCF has a demonstrated record of success over fifty years protecting our national parks and other public lands, so has demonstrated its worthiness of permanent reauthorization. The program’s funding has been insufficient and inconsistent, despite its importance in protecting our parks from incompatible commercial and residential development. More than 1.6 million nonfederal acres remain within the borders of units of the National Park System, totaling an estimated $2 billion in value. Dedicated funding for this program would ensure the consistent funding the program warrants and that when inholdings become available for purchase by willing sellers, the Park Service and other federal lands agencies have more adequate funds available to ensure their protection in perpetuity.
S. 941: Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act – NPCA supports this legislation that would permanently withdraw federal mineral rights on approximately 30,000 acres of National Forest System lands adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. This landscape, including the nation’s first National Park, is currently threatened by two proposed industrial-scale gold mines.
Industrial-scale operations, one potentially within view of the Roosevelt Arch that marks the northern entrance to Yellowstone, could have disastrous consequences on the environment, the local businesses that depend on the area’s thriving tourist economy, and the park experience that draws millions of visitors from across the globe. These visitors come for the abundant wildlife, world class fishing, recreational opportunities, and scenic vistas. These public lands also play a vital role in the health of the wildlife and waters of our nation’s first National Park and of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The proximity of the proposed mines to the park would impair the park’s air quality, night skies, and globally-unique geothermal resources, as well as the iconic grizzly bear and a long list of other valued wildlife. Additionally, the proposed mines could have disastrous water quality impacts on the Yellowstone River which serves as the lifeblood of central and southeast Montana before feeding into the Missouri River.
S. 1403: 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act of 2017 – NPCA supports this legislation to amend the Public Lands Corps Act to establish the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to place young people and/or veterans in national service positions to conserve and restore our national parks and other federal lands. NPCA supports this effort to teach youth and veterans skills to successfully transition to the workforce while instilling the importance of our public lands.
S. 1522 / H.R. 3186: Every Kid Outdoors Act – This bill would codify a widely popular initiative started during the Centennial year of the National Park Service. NPCA supports this bill to incentivize young people and their families to experience and appreciate our national parks and other federal lands and waters.
S. 2160: Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act – NPCA opposes this legislation that would dramatically undermine judicial processes related to national forest projects in Region 1. Region 1 includes a number of park adjacent national forests and grasslands in Montana and North Dakota, as well as forests and grasslands in northern Idaho. In short, the bill disregards judicial review, sets up binding arbitration that would likely result in industry preference, limits the public’s ability to recover legal fees and altogether discredits citizen enforcement of the law.
S. 2809: Emery County Public Land Management Act – NPCA opposes this legislation because of concerns about several provisions related to motor vehicle travel in southern Utah. These provisions could undermine a settlement agreement on the BLM’s Resource Management Plan (RMP) for which NPCA was a plaintiff and set a precedent for how vehicle routes and Revised Statue (RS) 2477 claims on public lands are addressed around the state and country, including within and adjacent to national park units.
The legislation also lists all motorized routes and trails as “Cherry Stemmed Routes” on the legislative map. As section 101©(2) grants the map the “same force and effect” as the legislative language, cherry-stemming routes on the map results in all shown motorized routes and trails being exempted from the NCA and wilderness. This approach: (1) effectively ensures that the routes will remain open in perpetuity, undermining the aforementioned settlement agreement; (2) fragments these protected areas with “excluded” routes; and (3) creates a conflicting management situation for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as motorized travel would be managed without consideration of, or consistency with, the NCA and wilderness designations.
Additionally, the bill’s provision excluding motorized routes and trails from the National Conservation Areas (NCA) and Wilderness Areas also fails to address RS2477 claims within the protected areas. By not explicitly abandoning the RS2477 claims in the legislation, the protected areas will be at risk of future RS2477 claims and incompatible vehicle route development, maintenance and motorized use. A true conservation gain for Emery County and an opportunity to help resolve a portion of Utah’s longstanding RS2477 legal battle, would be achieved by including language in the bill relinquishing the State of Utah’s RS2477 claims within the NCAs and Wilderness Areas.
S. 2831 / H.R. 5751: Golden Spike 150th Anniversary Act – NPCA strongly supports expanding the National Park System to more fully tell the story of America’s history, culture and our diverse experiences as a nation. The Golden Spike site certainly offers a unique narrative on the transcontinental railroad boom in the 19th Century—a significant turning point in westward expansion, the makeup of the American workforce and the reach of national media. NPCA encourages Congress to include information regarding the labor of diverse immigrants along the railroad in the bill itself and honor the roles of workers that made the track and Park Service site possible. For example, between 1865 and 1869, approximately 12,000 Chinese laborers were hired to work on the completion of the railroad accounting for 85 percent of the Central Pacific Railroad workforce.
Recognizing the stories that the Golden Spike site and bill honor, NPCA has concerns with portions of the bills. The intention of the Transcontinental Railroad Network (TRN) seems to mirror those of other “networks” in the National Park System supported by NPCA. However, the scale and scope of the TRN is significant (2,000-mile railroad corridor), and while criteria are offered in Sec. 4, these are numerous and will require an unknown but significant amount of National Park Service (NPS) outreach. To that end, this expansion, absence additional funding (see Sec. 7) or resources, may significantly over-tax existing NPS staff. Without known additional resources or philanthropic engagement, the development of robust partnerships to support the TRN rests on adjacent landowners. Lacking adequate NPS capacity to work with such a potentially large number of landowners, we are concerned these partnerships may not result in a balanced or sustainable network to honor the Transcontinental Railroad story. For example, NPCA certainly supports the removal (and necessary treatment) of invasive species; however, without NPS support and guidance along an NPS managed site or network, such activities could be delayed (30-days is very brief) or poorly implemented without adequate mitigation planning, resources or compliance staff engagement.
Additionally, NPCA is concerned with Section 5 relating to Historical Crossings. Again, a 30-day review period is very brief and insufficient to complete a thorough review of any proposed activities. Also, there are no parameters for the substance of possible proposed activities and no requirement of NEPA. It is important that the Park Service be allowed to review the environmental impacts of possible, unspecified activities.
S. 2870: Amache Study Act – NPCA supports this legislation to take the initial steps needed to preserve and protect Amache internment camp site in Granada, Colorado. This bill will provide the formal process and social science to elevate, preserve and restore Amache to its due place in American history.
NPCA firmly believes the importance and central role of the National Park Service in telling our collective history. That collective history cannot be fully told until we learn and pay respect to those who continue to suffer because of their unjust incarceration at Amache. We are appreciative that the study will consider the preservation of and the sensitivities associated with the loss of life, suffering, and the stripping of unalienable rights of more than seven thousand United States citizens. Amache, and former internment camp sites throughout the west, have been physically eroded by time but still stand today as a mirror to our country that reflects on issues of racism and fear that are as relevant today as they were nearly 75 years ago. The lack of adequate protection and funding of the Amache site to date serves as a shameful mark on our history, underscoring the lessons we as a nation, have not yet learned. Our nation owes all that suffered within the confines of Amache the due recognition of their struggle. Studying the Amache site allows for the opportunity to teach current and future generations of the mistakes that allowed for Executive Order 9066 to suspend the foundational American law that all men are created equal, and that allowed for systemic racism and fear to overrule our core beliefs and Constitution.
S. 3172: Restore Our Parks Act – NPCA supports this bill and the expected ANS from Senator Portman. Please refer to our separate letter on S. 3172 for our full statement.
NPCA supports the below three bills but opposes language in all three regarding “buffer zones,” this language it seeks to override existing National Park Service authorities’ to protect park resources and values. The Park Service must consider how activities on adjacent lands affect park resources and the visitor experience and be able to engage the community in finding reasonable solutions to potentially difficult management challenges.
S. 2889 / H.R. 4895: Medgar Evers Home National Monument Act – Medgar Evers was a powerful voice and presence for the civil rights movement. A veteran of United States armed forces, Evers joined the fight for equality upon returning to civilian life and served as the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi. Although his voice was silenced by an assassin’s bullet in 1963, his legacy survived his death at the age of 37. NPCA supports the establishment of national park site commemorating his life and work.
S. 3176 / H.R. 5979: Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument Act – The Battle of Mill Springs was the first decisive Federal victory of the Civil War and the beginning of a series of Confederate setbacks in the Western Theater. Mill Springs Battlefield, the Brown-Lanier House and the West-Metcalf house, are intact examples of a civil war battlefield and related properties that were occupied at the time of the Battle. The preserved encampment and earth works at Beech Grove provide an insight into the Confederate Army’s winter field camp in the winter of 1861-62.
In 1991, the National Park Service put Mill Springs on the Most Endangered Battlefield List. Since 1991 the Mill Springs Battlefield Association has purchased and maintained nearly 500 acres of battlefield land. In 1993 the Mill Springs Battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1994 Mill Springs Battlefield was designated a National Historic Landmark. NPCA supports the bill to create this new monument.
S. 3287 / H.R. 5655: Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument Act – NPCA supports this legislation to protect the Camp Nelson area as a National Monument. Roughly 180,000 African American men fought for the Union during the American Civil War. Beginning in 1864, Camp Nelson served as one of the largest recruitment, mustering and training depots for United States Colored Troops (USCT). Locals have supported preservation of the Camp Nelson story for decades. The designation of the site as a national monument to be managed by the National Park Service ensures that the important resources and stories associated with Camp Nelson will be protected in perpetuity for the benefit, enjoyment and inspiration of the American people and international visitors alike.
For More Information
Program Manager, Government Affairs