National Parks Bills: H.R. 1483



STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK,

DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,  DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS

OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING H.R. 1483, A BILL TO AMEND THE OMNIBUS PARKS

AND PUBLIC LANDS MANAGEMENT ACT OF 1996

TO EXTEND THE AUTHORIZATION FOR CERTAIN NATIONAL HERITAGE AREAS,

AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

 APRIL 23, 2008

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 1483, as passed by the House, to amend the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996 to extend the authorization for certain national heritage areas, and for other purposes. The committee has asked us to only address specific sections contained within Title II through VI in our testimony.  We should note, however, that the Department testified on May 15, 2007, in opposition to the sections in Title I that extend the authorization for federal funding for nine established national heritage areas.  The Department has also cited concerns or recommended the committee defer action on other provisions included in H.R. 1483. 

H.R. 1483, the Celebrating America's Heritage Act as passed by the House, has six titles related to national heritage areas. The Department will present its position on each of the specific sections within each of the five titles as requested by the committee.

Title II, Subtitle C would establish the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area in the counties of Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, and Morgan in northwestern Alabama, and would designate the Muscle Shoals Regional Center as the local coordinating entity responsible for developing and implementing the management plan for the heritage area.  The National Park Service is in the process of conducting a feasibility study, authorized by Public Law 107-348, to determine the suitability and feasibility of establishing this region as a national heritage area.  We expect to complete the study later this year, at which time we will provide a recommendation on the suitability and feasibility of establishing the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.  Until the study is completed, it would be premature to state a position on its designation as contained in this subtitle, so we recommend that the committee defer action on this provision.

Title II, Subtitle D would establish the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area that includes 37 Massachusetts and 8 New Hampshire communities northwest of Boston.  This is a region that substantively influenced our democratic forms of governance and the development of intellectual traditions that underpin the concepts of American freedom, democracy, conservation, social justice, and ethnic diversity.  Its natural and community resources are exceptional examples of the rural beauty of the New England landscape. 

A feasibility study and addendum was completed by the proposed management entity, the Freedom's Way Heritage Association, Inc., and reviewed by the National Park Service. The study found that the area met the criteria for designation as a national heritage area.  However, the Department recommends that the committee defer action on this area and all other proposed heritage area designations until program legislation is enacted that establishes guidelines and a process for the designation of national heritage areas.  In summer 2006, the Administration sent to Congress a legislative proposal to establish such guidelines and a process for designation.  The National Heritage Areas Partnership Act, S. 278, was introduced during the 110th Congress and it incorporated the majority of the provisions of the Administration's proposal. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress on this very important issue.

With 37 national heritage areas designated across 27 states, and more heritage area legislative proposals in the pipeline, the Administration believes it is critical at this juncture for Congress to enact national heritage area program legislation.  This legislation would provide a much-needed framework for evaluating proposed national heritage areas, offering guidelines for successful planning and management, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and standardizing timeframes and funding for designated areas.  Program legislation also would clarify the expectation that heritage areas work toward self-sufficiency by outlining the necessary steps, including appropriate planning, to achieve that shared goal. 

Title II, Subtitle F would establish the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area in southern Arizona, managed by the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance Inc.  The proposed Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area encompasses approximately 3,300 square miles of the upper and middle Santa Cruz River watershed and the upper Sonoran Desert.  It includes two units of the National Park System, Tumacacori National Historical Park which preserves a Spanish Colonial Mission, and Saguaro National Park which protects a diverse and picturesque area of the Sonoran Desert.  The Juan Baptista de Anza National Historic Trail also crosses the heritage area's boundary.  Both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service manage extensive land within the proposed national heritage area.  

A feasibility study was completed by the Center for Desert Archaeology and reviewed by the National Park Service. The study found that the area met the criteria for designation as a national heritage area.  However, the Department recommends that the committee defer action on this area and all other proposed heritage area designations until program legislation is enacted that establishes guidelines and a process for the designation of national heritage areas. 

Title III, Section 3001 would direct the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with appropriate State historic preservation officers, State historical societies, and other appropriate organizations, to conduct a study of the suitability and feasibility of establishing the Northern Neck National Heritage Area in the Commonwealth of Virginia to evaluate if it meets the criteria for heritage area designation.  The Secretary would be required to submit a report to Congress, no later than three years after funds are made available, on the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the study. The Department supports enactment of this title, however, we believe that any funding requested should be directed first toward completing previously authorized studies.

Title IV, Section 4006 would amend the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Act (Title VIII of Appendix D of Public Law 106-554) with several changes to improve the operation of the federal commission. The Department supports these amendments.

Title V, Section 5001 states that it is the sense of Congress that the Federal Government should not fund a national heritage area in perpetuity. As outlined in the Administration's legislative proposal, and as included in S. 278 as reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, it is our expectation that heritage areas should work toward self-sufficiency with federal funding through the National Park Service limited to a 15-year period.  The Department concurs with this provision.

Title VI, Section 6001 states that all designated and future designated lands within any natural heritage area for which funding is provided under this Act shall be exclusively governed by relevant State and local laws regarding hunting, fishing, and the possession or use of a weapon, trap, or net. Relevant State and local laws already apply to lands within a national heritage area and the majority of recently designated heritage areas include a provision in the authorizing legislation that state that nothing in a heritage area's designation diminishes the authority of the State to manage fish and wildlife including the regulation of fishing and hunting within the heritage area. However, the Department is concerned that there are federal lands within national heritage areas, including units of the National Park System, that do not allow hunting, fishing, trapping, or other wildlife harvesting activities. Under Departmental regulations, the National Park Service is already required to consult with State agencies on certain fish and wildlife management actions within national park units. We would recommend that the section be amended to exempt federal lands within national heritage areas from this requirement and we recommend that the reference be changed to "national" heritage areas to reflect the correct name of these areas.

Finally, we would like to work with the committee on amending this bill to include an additional title that would make a technical amendment to the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Act (Public Law 99-647) to allow ex officio or delegates of commission members to attend commission meetings on behalf of the State officials who sit on the commission.  This is a standard provision in most recently established federal commissions, but was not included in the Act establishing the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, and this oversight has hampered the work of the commission.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony and I am prepared to answer any questions that you or other members of the committee might have at this time.