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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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Land Conveyance and Acquisition Bills: H.R. 5751




STATEMENT OF STEPHEN E. WHITESELL,

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS,

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS

OF THE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING H.R. 5751, A BILL TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR

AND THE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE TO JOINTLY CONDUCT A STUDY OF CERTAIN LAND

ADJACENT TO THE WALNUT CANYON NATIONAL MONUMENT

IN THE STATE OF ARIZONA AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

JULY 10, 2008

________________________________________________________________________

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Administration's views on H.R. 5751, a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to jointly conduct a study of certain land adjacent to the Walnut Canyon National Monument in the State of Arizona.

The Administration does not object to the enactment of H.R. 5751. In testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks on April 26, 2007, the Administration also did not object to the enactment of S. 722, a similar bill. H.R. 5751 is almost identical to S. 722 as reported in the Senate. However, the Administration believes that funding should be directed first toward completing and implementing ongoing studies, 37 of which have been previously authorized for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic River System. We estimate the cost of this study to be approximately $300,000 to $350,000.

H.R. 5751 would direct the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct a study of land surrounding Walnut Canyon National Monument (monument) identified as the Walnut Canyon Proposed Study Area. The study would assess the suitability and feasibility of designating all or part of the study area as an addition to the monument, continuing management of the study area by the U.S. Forest Service, or any other designation or management option that would protect the resources that are present and maintain public use and access of the area. The bill also requires a report that includes findings, conclusions, and recommendations for future management of the study area to be transmitted by the Secretaries to Congress no later than 18 months after appropriations are made available.

Walnut Canyon National Monument was established on November 30, 1915, by Presidential Proclamation with the specific purpose of preserving the prehistoric ruins of ancient cliff dwellings. The monument was expanded in 1938 and 1996 and now occupies approximately 3,600 acres. The purposes for which the area was originally established have expanded to include protection of natural and cultural resources that are known to be significant to contemporary native tribes and the ecological communities and geological resources that make the canyon an outstanding scenic resource. The monument and the surrounding lands of the Coconino National Forest provide a significant natural sanctuary and greenbelt surrounding the city of Flagstaff.

During the last few years, the National Park Service has completed a General Management Plan (GMP) for Walnut Canyon National Monument. Many of the issues identified for resolution in H.R. 5751 are also identified as needs in the GMP including addressing the history of this boundary issue and the planning efforts that area governments have been making that would affect the quality and values of the monument.

For several years, local communities adjacent to the monument have debated how the land surrounding the monument would be best protected from future development. A number of years ago, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors and the Flagstaff City Council passed resolutions concluding that the preferred method to determine what is best for the land surrounding the monument is by having a federal study conducted. Included within the lands to be studied that surround the monument are approximately 2,000 acres of State trust lands. Our understanding is that Arizona law prohibits State lands to be donated and that the Arizona Supreme Court has determined that the Arizona Constitution prohibits the disposal of certain State land except through auction to the highest and best bidder. Should the study's conclusions involve these types of actions concerning State lands, we would have to await a determination on how the citizens of Arizona and their representatives would recommend proceeding.

We understand a local concern that National Forest System (NFS) lands between the Monument and the City of Flagstaff might eventually be sold or exchanged originally prompted local support for this proposed study. The proposed study area is within two miles of the campus of Northern Arizona University and is a prime recreation area for students, as well as for Flagstaff area residents. It is among the most highly used areas for recreation in the greater Flagstaff area.

In 2003, the Coconino National Forest amended its Land and Resource Management Plan, resulting in a decision to provide for closure of the area to motorized access and to remove the land encircling the Monument from consideration for sale or exchange. The Flagstaff-area Regional Land Use and Transportation Plan (RLUTP), approved by the Flagstaff City Council and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors in 2002, limits growth and does not allow for development within the study area. RLUTP specifically precludes two key sections of Arizona State Trust land between Flagstaff and the Monument as suitable for development. Those lands are identified in the plan for open space and greenways.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to note that since this bill was first introduced, a great deal of cooperative planning work has been accomplished by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, State of Arizona, Coconino County, and the City of Flagstaff to achieve the bill's objectives.

Mr. Chairman this completes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have.