NPCA submitted the following position on H.R. 2546 and proposed amendments to members of the House of Representatives ahead of floor vote scheduled for February 12, 2020.
H.R. 2546: Protecting America’s Wilderness Act
H.R. 2546 includes numerous opportunities for expanded park and public lands protection. For example, Title V includes H.R. 1708 which would protect an expanded Rim of the Valley corridor within a region that ranges from the Santa Susana Mountains to the heart of the city at El Pueblo de Los Angeles. The Rim of the Valley is an area rich in historic and cultural sites and critical wildlife corridors, waterways and landscapes worthy of national recognition and protection by the National Park Service. With more than 17 million people, the Los Angeles Metropolitan area is the second most populous region of the country; yet has less open space per capita than all other large cities on the west coast. NPCA supports the Rim of the Valley legislation that represents an opportunity to better protect and manage some of the region’s last wild lands, open spaces and historic sites that will allow the National Park Service to tell the story of Los Angeles’s rich and nationally-significant history. The expanded presence of the National Park Service will also facilitate new partnerships and better connect youth and families to the outdoors and build a new generation of national park enthusiasts. Additionally, the adjustment respects local land use authorities, forbids the use of eminent domain and has no impact on rights of private property owners.
The heart of H.R. 2546 rests on the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2019, Title I of the base bill. NPCA supports this legislation as it advances a citizen-led vision of permanently protecting 740,000 acres of public land in Colorado as designated wilderness, including proposed designations surrounding Mesa Verde National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area. While renowned for its widespread public land and its highly valued outdoor recreation, many of Colorado’s remaining wildland areas, including the air, water and wildlife within, face serious and growing threats from oil and gas development and a massive population growth. Permanent protection for these vulnerable areas has co-benefits for our national parks, local economies and the future of our public lands.
Finally, NPCA also supports Title VI of H.R. 2546 to protect the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act which will designate wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in Washington state. Driven by the local community, this legislation 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.
With these strong components as part of H.R. 2456, NPCA urges the House to pass the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act when it comes to the House floor.
Amendments to H.R. 2546
DeGette Amendment: NPCA supports this amendment which would designate approximately 60,000 acres of public lands in Colorado as wilderness. These four sites contain unique cultural and natural resources and granting wilderness designations would ensure they can be experienced for generations to come.
McClintock Amendments #2 and #3: Protecting federal lands under the Wilderness Act is a congressional responsibility. Congress determines if lands meet the criteria for this distinction—an uninhabited place of incredible ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value. Only two percent of lands in the lower forty-eight States are protected as wilderness, including some of our most iconic national parks. These lands contain our cleanest air and water and deserve the added protection afforded by Congress. We urge you to oppose these amendments and retain congressional power to protect these wild spaces.
Brown Amendment: NPCA supports this amendment to encourage veterans to enjoy our public lands for their enjoyment and recovery. In recent years, more researchers and military community members have found therapeutic benefits of outdoor recreation experiences for veterans. These studies have shown that extended group-based nature recreation experiences can have significant positive impacts on veterans struggling with serious health problems. Research also indicates outdoor recreation can help veterans reintegrate with civilian life.
Westerman Amendment #6: NPCA opposes this amendment because it seeks to upend congressional power by giving any current or future administration the power to un-designate lands Congress already found met the standards for wilderness protection. Furthermore, it is unnecessary. The Wilderness Act states that “such measures may be taken as necessary in the control of fires, insects and diseases” within wilderness.
Westerman Amendment #7: NPCA opposes this amendment because it’s arbitrary and does not even attempt to understand the value of better conserving these lands for the future. Redwood National Park is known for its iconic giant trees that dazzle visitors and provide habitat for key wildlife. Redwoods were heavily logged at the turn of the 20th century, the park contains 45 percent of the remaining protected old-growth redwoods in California. Due to its past, the Park Service is currently restoring habitat to support the growth, return and development of majestic old-growth forest. By designating 31,000 acres as potential wilderness, it gives the agency ample time to conduct rehabilitation work to align the area with the standards set in the Wilderness Act.
Cunningham Amendment: NPCA is concerned that this amendment could lead to environmentally damaging flights over some of our nation’s most pristine wild places. Olympic National Park has been increasingly adversely affected by an increase in military training flights. The low-level and high-decibel overflights that occur there, like the ones offered in this amendment, greatly disrupt wildlife and degrade the wilderness experience at the most visited National Park in the Northwest. We continue to encourage flights that pose a threat to our communities and environment be relocated to mitigate further harm.
Tipton Amendment #9: NPCA opposes this amendment because it removes from the bill important lands that have already been deemed to have significant natural and cultural value deserving wilderness protection. Specifically, Weber-Menefee Mountains are already designated BLM Wilderness Study Areas and there are adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park, an iconic site with fragile thousand-year-old historical artifacts. Congress should further protect this natural and cultural landscape by supporting wilderness designations for these areas.
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Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs