Land Conveyance and Acquisition Bills: H.R. 2933



STATEMENT OF STEPHEN E. WHITESELL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 2933, TO AMEND THE AMERICAN BATTLEFIELD PROTECTION ACT OF 1996 TO EXTEND THE AUTHORIZATION FOR THAT ACT, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

 

JULY 10, 2008

                                               

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2933, a bill to amend the American Battlefield Protection Act of 1996 and extend the authorization for that act, and other purposes. 

 The Department supports enactment of this bill.

 H.R. 2933 would extend the authorization from fiscal years September 30, 2009 through September 30, 2013 for battlefield preservation grants under the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2002.  The purpose of this act is to: (1) to protect battlefields and sites associated with armed conflicts that influenced the course of our history, (2) to encourage and assist all Americans in planning for the preservation, management, and interpretation of these sites, and (3) to raise the importance of preserving battlefields and related sites for future generations, through the upcoming sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, 2011-2015.  

American Battlefield Protection Program

The National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) is a small, cost-effective program that promotes the preservation of battlefields and related sites of all wars on American soil through “planning and partnerships.”  The ABPP promotes battlefield preservation strategies for protecting sites of armed conflict that cannot or should not be preserved by federal ownership, but must nonetheless be saved in order for future generations of Americans to understand the importance of these irreplaceable sites. 

 In order to achieve these goals, the ABPP provides a range of financial and technical assistance to Federal, State, and local partners on issues of battlefield landscape identification, documentation, planning, interpretation, and economic development.  The program encourages states, communities, non-profit organizations, and individual citizens to become the stewards of battlefields.  By empowering local communities and private landowners to make the best decisions possible, the ABPP enables these communities and owners to develop local solutions for balanced preservation approaches. 

 The ABPP provides yearly battlefield preservation project grants to assist communities and organizations striving to save our battlefields.  The project grants have helped States, Tribes, and local communities identify and document historic battlefield resources, nominate historic battlefields to the National Register of Historic Places, plan for resource stewardship and conservation, interpret the battlefields for the visiting public, and develop heritage tourism programs that encourage battlefield preservation. 

 Over the life of the program, ABPP has awarded 329 project grants totaling over $7.7 million to organizations in 37 States, the District of Columbia, and the Republic of Palau.  

 Acquisition Grants

In 2002, P.L. 107-359, the Civil War Battlefield Protection Act, amended the original ABPP authorization to establish the battlefield acquisition grant program. It directed the Secretary to submit to Congress a report on updates of the battlefield preservation activities, and authorized appropriations to the Secretary from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for each fiscal year 2004-2008.  These grants help State and local governments acquire Civil War battlefield lands outside of the legislative boundaries of units of the National Park System.  In order to be eligible to receive these grants, Congress established the following three requirements:  (1) the battlefield must be among the 384 identified by the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission; (2) the land to be acquired must not be within the exterior boundaries of any unit of the National Park System; and (3) any land acquired with the assistance of the grant program may not be subsequently converted to a non-conservation use without the prior written permission of the Secretary of the Interior.  In addition, the ABPP set two additional requirements: (1) any grant awarded must be supported by an appraisal of the property’s value in accordance with federal standards for property appraisals; and (2) any land acquired with the assistance of the grant program must be protected by a perpetual easement sufficient to protect the significant above-ground features of the battlefield landscape as well as the battlefield’s archeological resources.

 The grant fund has been tremendously successful in allowing local preservation efforts to permanently preserve Civil War battlefield land with a minimum of federal assistance.  Grants of $26.3 million from ABPP have leveraged a total of $55.3 million in nonfederal funding.  To date, the grant program has assisted in the permanent protection of 13,906 acres at 54 Civil War battlefields. 

 Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.  I would be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members may have regarding this bill.