Fish and Land Bills: H.R. 5540



STATEMENT OF MITCHELL BUTLER,

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY, FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS,

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS

OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING H.R. 5540, A BILL TO AMEND THE CHESAPEAKE BAY INITIATIVE ACT OF 1998

TO PROVIDE FOR THE CONTINUING AUTHORIZATION OF THE CHESAPEAKE BAY

GATEWAYS AND WATERTRAILS NETWORK.

 APRIL 24, 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. 5540, a bill to amend the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998 to provide for the continuing authorization of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.

The Department supports authorization of continued technical assistance to the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.  However, the President's budget did not include targeted grant funding under Stat Aid for this work.  Therefore, while we support the Chesapeake Bay cleanup mission, we cannot support authorization for grants.

H.R. 5540 would provide for the permanent authorization of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network (Network) with annual appropriations as necessary to carry out its authorized purposes.  Under the current authorization, federal funding would expire at the end of fiscal year 2008.  This bill would authorize permanent appropriations to the Network similar to the manner in which national park units, wild and scenic rivers, and national trails are funded.

Authorized as part of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-312), the Network includes over 160 refuges, parks, historic sites, trails, and museums working together to foster citizen stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay across six states and the District of Columbia.  Through this Act, Congress mandated the National Park Service, as coordinator of the network, to provide technical and financial assistance in cooperation with other federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector to create a network of Chesapeake Bay Gateways sites and Chesapeake Bay Watertrails. 

The Network and all Gateways sites have three main objectives: first, to educate people about the Chesapeake Bay and help them learn its stories through place-based interpretive education; second, to facilitate access to the Chesapeake Bay and Chesapeake Bay-related resources; and third, to foster conservation and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, stimulating public understanding of and involvement in stewardship.  The Network hosts more than 10 million visitors annually at more than 160 sites across 64,000 square miles in six states and the District of Columbia.

Through technical and financial assistance, the National Park Service has assisted the Gateways to develop hundreds of partnerships across the watershed to help people understand and appreciate the Chesapeake Bay.  The Network has been especially effective in helping to build the capacity and credibility of smaller, less known sites throughout the region.

The Gateways Network provides a framework for appreciating the Chesapeake Bay as a whole by experiencing its remarkable natural and cultural diversity.  Connecting the places people visit and value to an understanding of the Bay as a system will lead to greater public commitment to restoration and conservation of the Chesapeake Bay.  This is a fundamental aspect of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network vision.  Reflective of the Network's success in accomplishing this intent, the Network was recognized by the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation in 2005 as a cooperative conservation success story.

Over the past eight years, unrequested earmarks have directed the National Park Service to provide financial assistance to Network sites for a total of $7.7 million, which was matched by $11.9 million by the Gateways, a factor of over $1.50 for each contributed federal dollar.  This has resulted in interpretive signage at key places throughout the watershed, hands-on watershed education programs for children, the development of a map and guide for the Network, additional access and orientation to the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries along the water trails, and over 35,000 hours of volunteer restoration activities. 

The National Park Service has also provided technical assistance in the form of interpretive planning, water and land trail planning, capacity building workshops, development of a visitor friendly website used by over one million people annually to learn about the Gateways and to help plan their visits to the Chesapeake Bay, and other activities that support the Network.  The Network has been instrumental in developing over 1,500 miles of water trails throughout the Chesapeake watershed, including trails from the headwaters of the Susquehanna River in New York to the James River in Virginia, providing recreational experiences for thousands of water trails users.   

There is widespread support for the Network.  The governors of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the Mayor of the District of Columbia, and the Chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission are all on record in support of continuing authorization of the Network. They stated in a letter to the Secretary of the Interior that "the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network connects citizens to the Bay by providing them with opportunities to learn about our maritime and natural history and by involving them in stewardship activities….A fully-funded Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network program of the National Park System will sustain the Network's innovative approach to cooperative conservation, connecting ten million visitors with the Chesapeake each year."  Representatives of other federal agencies, local governments, and non-governmental organizations such as the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Executive Council, have also expressed their support for the continuing authorization of the Network. 

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.