Policy Update Dec 11, 2018

Position on S. 2395, S. 3505, S. 3435, S. 3571, S. 3609, S. 3961, H.R. 5005 & H.R. 6687

NPCA submitted the following positions to members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource National Parks Subcommittee ahead of a hearing scheduled for December 12, 2018.

S. 2395 – Explore America Act of 2018: NPCA supports this bill to enhance place-based preservation by helping communities play a greater role in the development and promotion of tourism in areas adjacent to national parks. By providing technical assistance from the Departments of Commerce and Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, S. 2395 will empower gateway community partners including, Native American and indigenous peoples, National Heritage Areas and other preservation and heritage tourism partners, with the ability to more capably protect, preserve, interpret and share their unique stories with domestic and international visitors alike. The projected economic and social benefits resulting from enactment of S. 2395 include economic growth for developing communities through more robust tourism and better access for community partners to preservation and promotion best practices via engagement with preservation experts.

S. 3505 – Preserving America’s Battlefields Act: NPCA supports this bill to encourage preservation of Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War battlefields by reauthorizing the federal Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants Program, a matching grants program administered by the American Battlefield Protection Program. This program encourages state and private-sector investment in battlefield preservation and has been used to save more than 30,000 acres of hallowed ground in 20 states in places like Shiloh, Gettysburg and Chickamauga.

S. 3534 – New River Gorge National Park Designation Act: NPCA opposes this bill as currently written to re-designate New River Gorge National River as New River Gorge National Park. New River Gorge is managed in a similar way to other National Rivers and National Recreation Areas – the enabling legislation, and subsequent relevant legislation, allow for uses and activities that may not be compatible with the purpose and significance of a National Park, such as hunting or state oversight of commercial boating. NPCA encourages the committee to limit hunting in the park to an area designated as ‘National Preserve’ and change the management of the commercial boating operations in order to be consistent with current law. NPCA would consider supporting a re-designation if these concerns are addressed.

S. 3571 / H.R. 5420 - FDR Historic Preservation Act: Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site honors the life and work of our 32nd President and is one of the great historic destinations within New York State and the National Park System. NPCA strongly supports the addition of the Morgan Property adjacent to the entrance; this addition will allow it to be protected in perpetuity and enhance connections to the Vanderbilt National Historical Site to the north of the FDR National Historic Site.

S. 3609 / H.R. 801 – Route 66 National Historic Trail Designation Act: NPCA supports this bill to designate the Route 66 National Historic Trail. Since its establishment in 1926, Route 66 has been an emblem of 20th Century American culture, and a gateway to the national parks of the western United States. Linking Chicago and Los Angeles with Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park and other iconic landscapes, Route 66 provided an increasingly mobile public with unprecedented access to the Southwest’s shared treasures. In the process, the road itself became a destination. Route 66’s architecture and artifacts continue to spark interest in history and culture throughout the Midwest winding past the iconic Gateway Arch to the West at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. The road itself was primary inspiration for the establishment of Mojave Trails National Monument, which contains the longest intact section of the historic highway. With sections preserved in both Petrified Forest National Park and Mojave Trails National Monument, the history of Route 66 is inextricably interwoven with that of our Southwestern and Midwestern national parks. It is a treasure well worth celebrating and protecting.

NPCA is concerned with sections E, F and G as we are unclear of the impacts on the park unit and its management. The “buffer zones” language 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.

H.R. 3961 – Kissimmee River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2018: NPCA supports this bill to designate segments of the Kissimmee River in Florida for possible inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This study is an appropriate recognition for the massive undertaking by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District to restore the Kissimmee River and greater Everglades ecosystem. Kissimmee River Restoration began in the early 1990s as a foundation project for Everglades restoration to restore the natural path of the river after its channelization into a drainage canal in the 1960s. Once completed in 2020, more than 40 square miles of floodplain will be restored, including nearly 20,000 acres of wetlands and 44 miles of historic river channel, helping with the timing and distribution of water flows into the Everglades from the headwaters region north of Lake Okeechobee. Already the area is seeing ecological benefits with birds and other wildlife returning more quickly than anticipated. This legislation helps highlight the successful federal-state partnership underway to restore America’s Everglades.

H.R. 5005 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to determine the suitability and feasibility of establishing the birthplace of James Weldon Johnson in Jacksonville, Florida, as a unit of the National Park System: James Weldon Johnson was a poet, author, lawyer, song-writer and civil rights activist. In 1900, Johnson penned the lyrics to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which soon became known as the Negro National Anthem. In 1920, he was chosen to be the first African American executive secretary for the NAACP. NPCA supports this legislation to conduct a special resource study of the James Weldon Johnson birthplace in Jacksonville, Florida, the first critical step in determining the most appropriate way of commemorating the life and legacy of this extraordinary American.

H.R. 6687 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to manage the Point Reyes National Seashore in the State of California consistently with Congress’ long-standing intent to continue to authorize working dairies and ranches on agricultural property as part of the seashore’s unique historic, cultural, scenic and natural values: The National Park Service has recently commenced a public planning process through a General Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to address the numerous complex scientific and public policy issues at the Point Reyes National Seashore (“Seashore”). H.R. 6687 is written to effectively preemptively determine this course of action and subsequently undermine the purpose, value and process established by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The current planning process, however, is a specific outcome of a recent court approved multi-party, multi-governmental Settlement Agreement that included the National Park Service and Seashore ranchers.

While NPCA supports the continuation of multi-generational ranching operations within Point Reyes National Seashore when conducted responsibly and with proper environmental review and consideration, we request the committee adopt amendments to address several concerns we have with H.R. 6687. For example, H.R. 6687 forces the National Park Service to issue long-term 20-year leases for ranching on certain lands, regardless of whether

  1. the lands are not being ranched or have long-been restored or used for other park purposes,
  2. the individuals seeking to be beneficiaries of long-term leases have no familial or multi-generational connection to the original ranchers of the land, which is the legal standard outlined in the Seashore’s enabling legislation and the standard used by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in his 2012 Point Reyes Decision Memorandum, or
  3. performance standards and conditions are not being adhered to by ranchers, which has been an ongoing problem at the Seashore and has included illegal subleasing and other unauthorized activities on parkland.

In short, H.R. 6687 has the potential to significantly alter the way Point Reyes National Seashore is managed while preempting the legal public process that is now underway, one that is the result of a court-approved Settlement Agreement. NPCA would consider supporting H.R. 6687 if the aforementioned concerns are addressed, and NEPA is not effectively predetermined.