Policy Update May 17, 2023

Position on S. 593, S. 736, S. 776, S. 873 & S. 1146

NPCA submitted the following positions to members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources ahead of a markup scheduled for May 17, 2023.

S. 593 – 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. 736 - Chiricahua National Park Act: Visitors to Chiricahua National Monument experience a “wonderland of rocks” whether they stop at viewpoints to overlook the vast fields of rock pinnacles or walk on trails that wind through these amazing formations. The monument protects beautiful forests and wildlife, and the well-preserved Faraway Ranch helps us understand how settlers once lived in this isolated area in the southwestern mountains. Cochise County and many nearby towns and Chambers of Commerce support elevating its status to Chiricahua National Park. Recognizing the unit’s remarkable features and national significance, NPCA supports redesignating the site as Chiricahua National Park.

S. 776 – M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act: NPCA supports this legislation, which would designate segments of the Gila River in New Mexico as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This designation will ensure long-term protection of the Gila’s riparian ecosystem and its threatened and endangered species, while also protecting clean water for outdoor recreation, local communities and the region’s economy. It will carry immediate benefits for Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and surrounding public lands and wilderness.

S. 873 – America’s Outdoor Recreation Act of 2023: 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.873 contains numerous provisions that better protect these lands and help the public enjoy them. For example, Section 142 would increase coordination 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. We additionally support Senator Hickenlooper’s amendment that better addresses the use of fixed anchors for rock climbing in wilderness.

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. 873 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, even if that data is collected by a private sector partner. Some of these strategies have already been undertaken by private parties. Google has already begun to roll out features that may eventually duplicate the efforts of both Sections 144 and 145.

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.

S.1466 - A bill to adjust the boundary of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to include the Rim of the Valley Corridor, and for other purposes: The Rim of the Valley is an area rich in both natural and cultural resources, including critical wildlife corridors, waterways and landscapes worthy of inclusion in our National Park System. 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, as it represents an opportunity to better protect and manage some of the region’s last wild lands and open spaces—including habitat for threatened species ranging from the mountain lions to the redlegged frogs—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 with schools, local governments and community-based organizations, expand agency-led interpretive programs, connect more youth and families to the outdoors, and build a new generation of park enthusiasts.