Policy Update May 4, 2022

NPCA position on S. 173, S. 177, S. 182, S. 455, S. 1321, S. 1942, & S. 3266

NPCA sent the following letter to Members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources ahead of a bussiness meeting scheduled for May 3, 2022. 

S. 173 – Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act: NPCA supports this legislation to protect 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, including providing a long overdue boundary designation for the Curecanti National Recreation Area (NRA), which would authorize the establishment of the area as an official member of the National Park System. Although the NRA was created in 1965, it was never afforded enabling legislation by Congress, and therefore its boundary was never designated. This administrative deficiency seems minor, but it has limited the National Park Service’s ability to efficiently manage the area. The CORE Act fixes this by providing an appropriate boundary through transfer and exchange of land 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 the National Park Service to work with landowners to enhance the long-term conservation of natural, recreational and scenic resources within the park unit. The CORE Act is also a response to the interests of nearly one million visitors who travel to the area to fish, hike and recreate, and to the local gateway economies that depend upon this visitation and enhancement of its recreational opportunities.

S. 177 - Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Establishment Act: Cerro de la Olla is an exceptional tract of land with unique, lush, forested wildlife habitat rising out of sage plateau in the middle of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. It is ancestral Taos Pueblo land and an important part of Hispano land grant history, and absolutely deserving of formal wilderness designation to permanently protect its many special qualities, resources and deep cultural history. NPCA supports this legislation along with the Taos Pueblo Tribe, members of the traditional local Hispano community and many others.

S. 182 – Pecos Watershed Protection Act: NPCA supports this legislation, especially the benefits and protection it imparts on the water quality of the Pecos River – a crucial cold-water habitat suitable for cutthroat, brown and rainbow trout – thereby benefiting Pecos National Monument and its relevant fishery. The fishery at the Pecos River in the monument is an important community resource and brings economic and educational benefits to the area. This legislation will protect the river from its headwaters in the Pecos Wilderness to its reaches further downstream in the community of Pecos and in Pecos National Monument by withdrawing the upper watershed from activities such as mining and appropriation and geothermal leasing, which would have direct adverse impacts on the water quality of the river downstream and land health of the watershed.

S. 455 – Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: NPCA supports this locally-driven 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. 1321 – Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Boundary Modification Act of 2021: More than a century ago we protected the impressively massive “Great House” by creating the 480-acre Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. This bill adds increased protections to about 415 acres of key archaeological sites to tell the full story of the unit’s Hohokam occupants, who flourished in the harsh desert of central Arizona until around 1450. Supported by city and county elected officials and the nearby Gila River Indian Community, this bill specifically includes culture-rich parcels on the west, north and east sides of the monument, and a prehistoric platform mound and ballcourt site even further east. It also resolves a troublesome boundary between the monument and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) by giving the BIA full control of an irrigation canal it operates on the monument’s southern boundary. NPCA supports the modified boundary of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

S. 1942 – National Heritage Area Act: NPCA strongly supports this bill, which will extend the funding reauthorizations for all National Heritage Areas out by 15 years from the date of enactment thus providing heritage area managers the time they need to develop and deliver programming for their partners and constituents. S. 1942 will also establish a “system” of National Heritage Areas and provide more uniformity to the way in which heritage areas are designated, managed and assessed, improvements that will aid congressional oversight of the program.

S. 3266 – Outdoor Recreation Act: NPCA appreciates the intent of this legislation, as well as the continued efforts of the Committee to ensure America’s public lands are protected. The last few years have shown just how important getting into the outdoors is to the American public and S.3266 contains numerous provisions that better protect these lands and help the public enjoy them. For example, Section 142 would increase coordination among across multiple Federal agencies as our public lands experience record breaking visitation. Sections 146 and 147 would increase access to outdoor experiences for America’s veterans and youth participation in public land recreation. Sections 204 and 205 would make entrance, recreation, and America the Beautiful passes available for purchase online and Section 208 permanently reauthorizes the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to ensure our public lands receive the revenue from the fees collected. Section 406 would ensure funding for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership, a national grant program funded through that develops recreational infrastructure in communities that have been traditionally under-resourced.

However, there are also sections of this wide-reaching legislation that require further clarification and modification to ensure the best possible outcome for America’s public lands and national parks. For example, the lack of consistent definitions for “road” and “trail” in this legislation could result in maps that are incorrect and cause danger to the public or damage to resources. Section 123 charges BLM and USFS to construct shooting ranges in every National Forest and BLM district. These public lands are often immediately adjacent to NPS land, and the bill does not sufficiently outline mitigation efforts that must be undertaken to ensure a safe and unimpaired park experience. Section 131 outlines the need for increased broadband in federal recreation areas, but the extensive use of and impacts to natural and cultural resources to build and maintain broadband at recreation sites within the National Park System must be studied further before implementation.

Visitation within certain iconic units of the National Park System is at a record high. This increase presents opportunities for education and enjoyment, and also challenges for natural and cultural resource protection. Sections 144 and 145 of S. 3266 attempt to resolve some of these issues through the collection and dissemination of visitation data. Unfortunately, these sections present an unfunded mandate to land management agencies, who will be unable to successfully implement this strategy without significant federal funding. As Section 131 of this legislation illustrates, further infrastructure investments would be needed on our public lands to guarantee the necessary internet access required for real-time data collection. NPCA is not convinced that federal land management agencies have the corresponding staff who can analyze and ensure integrity of the collected data. Since the data is intended for public use, Congress should ensure its accuracy and efficacy.

A 21st century Park Service requires not only bold thinking, but investments in the staff and technology that are the foundational tools necessary to uphold the NPS mandate as outlined in the Organic Act. NPCA looks forward to working with Congress and this Committee as this legislation moves forward.