Policy Update Feb 25, 2021

NPCA Position on H.R. 803, Protecting America's Wilderness and Public Lands Act

NPCA shared the following letter with members of the House of Representives ahead of an anticipated floor vote scheduled for February 26th. 

We write to share our support for H.R. 803, Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, as well as positions on specific amendments, ahead of an anticipated floor vote scheduled for February 26th, 2021.

NPCA supports the passage of this visionary legislation that ensures long term protection for the Grand Canyon as well as nearly 1.5 million acres of wilderness and more than 1,000 river miles of National Wild and Scenic Rivers System across the West. H.R. 803 presents an incredible opportunity to protect cultural and natural resources in critical park landscapes. The following titles to the bill would specifically enhance national parks:

Title VIII, the Grand Canyon Protection Act offers further protections to Grand Canyon National Park, its watershed and the water sources vital to the Havasupai people from the impacts of uranium mining. This legislation would make permanent the current 20-year ban on new uranium mining for one million acres surrounding the park. This action will preserve for future generations the beauty and health of what is one of America’s most awe-inspiring places. Tribal leaders, business owners, local officials and conservation groups all support this permanent prohibition. It is not worth risking contamination of a national jewel and the booming tourism and recreation industries that employ thousands of Americans and bring hundreds of millions of dollars to rural communities.

Title VI expands protection for the Rim of the Valley corridor in California from the Santa Susana Mountains to the heart of the city at El Pueblo de Los Angeles. This area is rich in historic and cultural sites and critical wildlife corridors, waterways and landscapes worthy of national recognition by the National Park Service (NPS). 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. The expanded presence of NPS will facilitate new community partnerships and better connect youth and families to the outdoors building a new generation of national park enthusiasts. Additionally, the expansion respects local land use authorities, forbids the use of eminent domain and does not impact the rights of private property owners.

Title I, the Colorado Wilderness Act advances a citizen-led vision of permanently protecting approximately 660,000 acres of public land in Colorado as designated wilderness. These proposed designations are directly adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument and near Mesa Verde National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area. World-renowned for its public lands and outdoor recreation, many of Colorado’s remaining wildlands face serious and growing threats from oil and gas development and 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.

Title III, the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act designates wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in Washington state. Driven by local communities, this legislation protects ecosystems and recreational opportunities in and around Olympic National Park, including trail systems, wildlife habitats and scenery. The river protections will better connect salmon to the mountainous heart of the park and the sea, especially along the Elwha River which is a world-class river restoration project within the park’s largest watershed.

Title VII, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act protects 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado including a long-overdue boundary designation for the Curecanti National Recreation Area (NRA). Although the NRA was created in 1965, it was never authorized through enabling legislation by Congress and therefore, its boundary was never designated. This legislative deficiency seems minor, but it has limited the NPS’s ability to efficiently manage the area. This bill provides an appropriate boundary through transfer and exchange of lands with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The proposed boundary adjustment is the result of a years-long, extensive public planning process and will allow NPS to work with landowners to enhance the long-term conservation of natural, recreational and scenic resources within the park unit. The bill also designates the first-ever National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale that pays tribute to the brave WWII veterans who fought in World War II as part of the 10th Mountain Division and fulfills their wishes to preserve this landscape.

With these strong components as part of H.R. 803, NPCA urges the House to pass the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act when it comes to the House floor.

NPCA also urges members to consider the following positions on specific amendments as they are presented ahead of the vote on final passage.

Amendments to H.R. 803:

Amendment #7 by Rep. Gosar (AZ): NPCA opposes this amendment which undermines the intent of the bill by excluding particular areas based on political boundaries without regard to the resource protection needs of important landscapes.

Amendment #8 by Rep. Gosar (AZ): NPCA opposes this amendment which could nullify the landscape protections this bill is intended to advance. Previous studies of mineral resources within the withdrawal area have found little economic viability to develop those resources beyond the uranium, copper, and gravel that have been previously mined and are not rare.

Amendment #9 by Rep. Herrell (NM): NPCA opposes this amendment which would prevent ecologically important resources from receiving important wilderness protection, including areas within Redwood National Park. The National Park Service is currently restoring habitat in the park to support the growth, return and development of majestic old-growth forest. By designating 31,000 acres as potential wilderness, the agency will have ample time to conduct rehabilitation work to align the area with the standards set in the Wilderness Act.

Amendment #15 by Reps. Moore (UT) and Newhouse (WA): NPCA opposes this amendment which would undermine congressional power to protect wild spaces. 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 2 percent of lands in the lower-48 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.

Amendment #16 by Rep. Newhouse (WA): NPCA opposes this amendment which is ambiguous and has no basis for judging an accurate certification.

Amendment #25 by Reps. Stauber (MN), Newhouse (WA) and Boebert (CO): NPCA opposes this amendment as it is ambiguous and seeks to impede protection for federal lands and waters threatened by damaging development.

Amendments #26 & #27 by Reps. Stauber (MN), Newhouse (WA) and Boebert (CO): NPCA opposes these amendments which undermine the intent of the bill by excluding particular areas based on political boundaries without regard to the resource protection needs of important landscapes.

Amendment #29 by Rep. Westerman (AR): NPCA opposes this amendment which 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.

Amendment #1 by Rep. Barragán (CA): NPCA supports this amendment which provides dedicated funding to the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership at the National Park Service. The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) is a nationally competitive matching grant program for communities to acquire land and water for parks or recreation purposes or develop new or renovate existing outdoor recreation facilities. Priority is given to urban areas that engage and empower underserved communities.

Amendment #2 by Rep. Brown (MD): NPCA supports this amendment which encourages veterans to visit 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.

Amendment #13 by Rep. McEachin (VA): NPCA supports this amendment which authorizes the study of lands in North Carolina and Virginia for the possible creation of a Great Dismal Swamp National Heritage Area. The land and resources in question are critical to telling the interlinked stories of tribal communities and the Underground Railroad.

Amendment #14 by Reps. McKinley (WV) and Tonko (NY): NPCA supports this amendment which establishes a “system” of National Heritage Areas – no such entity currently exists – that will make it easier for program managers to understand their accountability benchmarks and for Congress to provide oversight to this unique and impactful program. National Heritage Areas are public private partnerships that empower local stewards to more capably tell their part of the American experience.

Amendment #18 by Rep. O'Halleran (AZ): NPCA supports this amendment which adds increased protections to about 415 acres of key archaeological sites to tell the full story of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument’s 15th Century Hohokam occupants. Supported by city and county elected officials and the nearby Gila River Indian Community, this amendment specifically includes culture-rich parcels surrounding the monument, and a prehistoric platform mound and ballcourt site even further east.

Amendment #19 by Rep. O'Halleran (AZ): NPCA supports this amendment which brings Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument’s visitor center into the monument and under full management of the National Park Service. Due to a historic error, the center is located just outside the monument proper, on land administered by Coconino National Forest. For years, any visitor center improvement or project faced two sets of approval. This plan is endorsed by both agencies.

Amendment #20 by Reps. Panetta (CA), Thompson, Mike (CA) and Lofgren (CA): NPCA supports this amendment which is intended to reinforce the Wilderness Act which states that “such measures may be taken as necessary in the control of fires, insects and diseases” within wilderness.