Policy Update Oct 8, 2015

Testimony: S. 414 California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act

Written testimony by David Lamfrom for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing on October 8, 2015.

Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Wyden and members of the subcommittee, I am David Lamfrom, Director of California Desert and Wildlife Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). On behalf of our more than one million members and supporters across the country, I thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony in regard to our organizational support for S.414 being discussed during this subcommittee hearing on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining. Founded in 1919, NPCA is the leading, independent, private citizen voice in support of promoting, protecting and enhancing America’s national parks for present and future generations.

Originally introduced in December 2009, and improved through two successive reintroductions in 2011 and 2015, Senator Feinstein’s California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act (CDCRA) represents an expansive and thoughtful legislative approach to managing important federal lands across the California Desert. It would:

  • Appropriately designate specific lands to protect their world-class natural and cultural resources. That includes the expansion of the three California Desert national park units, the creation of two new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Monuments, the designation of BLM Wilderness Areas currently designated as Wilderness Study Areas, and the designation of critical Wild and Scenic Rivers.
  • Acknowledge the increased use of Off-Highway Vehicle recreation across the California Desert and provide access and suitable locations for the recreational needs of this constituency of desert enthusiasts. NPCA supports responsible recreation in appropriate locations in the California Desert, and understands that managed recreation is critical to avoiding the impacts of OHV trespass on sensitive desert lands, including our National Parks and Preserve.
  • Protect critical water resources in a region where surface and sub-surface water are rare and therefore crucial to natural and human communities. This legislation’s provisions would protect the desert’s most important waterways as wild and scenic rivers. It proposes protections for riparian areas, streams, springs, seeps, and aquifers vital to desert species and migratory species.
  • Enhance the California Desert’s tourism economy by expanding National Parks and creating National Monuments. More than three million people currently visit the California Desert National Parks each year, and the number is expected to grow. These designations will provide ideal locations to support this growing industry, and will create additional excitement about the California Desert as one of the Country’s most appealing recreational destinations.
  • Enhance existing conservation actions and protect existing recreational uses. This legislation would designate important conservation lands for additional protections and those protections would support rare, threatened, and endangered species by protecting their habitat. The connection between areas proposed for conservation and existing conservation lands would also provide opportunities for species to move across the larger landscape to migrate seasonally, to take advantage of seasonal water and food resources, and to move to suitable lands as needed. The legislation also protects existing recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, legal OHV travel, hiking, photography, rockhounding, and many other important uses.
  • Avoid conflict with existing uses and businesses. S.414 was carefully developed through years of conversations with stakeholders and communities in the California Desert. Through that process, the legislation built impressive support across constituencies, including desert counties, and worked through conflicts with existing land users across proposed lands. Existing valid mining claims will be honored, private property will not be affected, OHV routes will be protected, and hunting will be allowed in many areas where it is currently allowed.

NPCA has worked on this legislation since 2009 and continues to support its provisions. We recognize the long-term effort Senator Feinstein has invested into balancing the needs of desert communities while protecting the desert and its remarkable lands and wildlife. This exemplary legislative effort was built in coordination with important stakeholders and desert communities, and has been widely supported. The California Desert continues to gain traction as of one of the country’s most scenic, protected, and ecologically important regions which has resulted in growing visitation. We believe that the passage of this legislation would represent a significant benefit to the California Desert and its communities. Many of the legislation’s supporters list the economic benefit as a fundamental reason for support. The quality of life supported by these protected lands has also drawn new residents away from the cities to live, work, recreate, and create new businesses in the California Desert.

This legislation was built in consultation with desert communities, is widely supported by those communities, and provides reasonable, balanced protection and access to desert users. NPCA supports the passage of this critical bill on its merits.