National Parks Bills: S 2804



STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK,

DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF

THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING S. 2804, A BILL TO ADJUST THE BOUNDARY

OF EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

APRIL 23, 2008

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2804, a bill to adjust the boundary of Everglades National Park and to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to acquire additional property in the Tarpon Basin district.

The Department supports enactment of this bill, with some technical amendments as discussed later in this testimony.

Congress passed legislation in 1934 authorizing the establishment of Everglades National Park through public and private donations of land.  Thirteen years later, in 1947, President Harry Truman dedicated Everglades as the first national park to preserve purely biological – not geological – resources.  In establishing the park, Congress recognized that South Florida's climate and the abundant flora and fauna present there were unique to the United States and to the world.  Specifically, Congress noted the importance of protecting the mangrove swamp, which "teems with aquatic and amphibian life" and provides a sanctuary for numerous wading birds.  Congress also recognized the importance of protecting the hardwood hammocks.  Oak, mahogany and gumbo-limbo trees grow on these slightly elevated mounds of limestone, providing habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Everglades National Park is located at the interface of a temperate and subtropical environment with a great diversity of resources.  It is recognized by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve and as a World Heritage Site.  It is also designated a Wetland of International Importance by the international Ramsar Convention treaty.

The purpose of the proposed legislation is to adjust the boundary of Everglades National Park and authorize the acquisition of approximately 600 acres of land and water surrounding Tarpon Basin for inclusion in the park.  These changes are relatively minor, as Everglades National Park encompasses approximately 1,509,000 acres.  However, the resources that will be acquired are significant and characteristic of those intended by Congress to be protected.  The approximate acquisition costs would be $983,000 including cleanup, appraisals and other associated costs.  Anticipated costs for operations are estimated to be under $100,000.  Funding for these costs will be subject to NPS priorities and availability of appropriations. 

The boundary expansion property, located near Key Largo, Florida, contains habitat for the wood stork and the West Indian Manatee, each of which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.  The property also contains habitat for the roseate spoonbill and the white-crowned pigeon.  Both are categorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as threatened species.

The property is comprised of two parcels abutting the northeast and southwest sides of Tarpon Basin.  The northeastern parcel, referred to as the Dusenbury Creek peninsula, encompasses slightly more than 59 percent of the total tract and includes predominantly coastal mangrove areas, with some 10 acres of hardwood hammock.  This parcel has approximately 900 feet of frontage along the west side of US Highway 1 and is bounded by Tarpon Basin on the south and Blackwater Sound on the north and west.  The southwestern parcel, referred to as the Grouper Creek peninsula, consists of approximately 41 percent of the remaining total tract as coastal mangrove.  A number of small salt water ponds are located throughout the two parcels.  The largest, Lake Donna, is accessible by land.  Access to the others is restricted due to dense mangrove stands.

The Dusenbury Creek parcel has a small "hurricane hole," located in the northern end of the property, which can be accessed from the Intracoastal Waterway and from Tarpon Basin.  Historically, this area has been used by boaters to moor their sailboats during a hurricane or tropical storm.  This legislation provides the Secretary of the Interior with authority to issue permits to the owners of a sailing vessel who, before the date of enactment of this legislation, have used the hurricane hole to secure that sailing vessel during a tropical storm or hurricane.

This legislation will have minimal impact on the park's budget, other than funding for land acquisition.  The park will be able to manage any land additions within its existing priorities.  No additional personnel will be needed to implement the proposal.  The boundary adjustment and acquisition will require the park's Florida Bay District personnel to perform additional water- and land-based patrols.  These patrol changes are minor, however.

The department has some technical amendments to S. 2804.  First, the land acquisition and administration language in sections 4(b) and 4(d) is confusing as to its intent.  We would like to work with the committee to simplify the language in accordance with other park boundary adjustment legislation approved by the committee.  We would also like to suggest a couple of technical changes to the language of section 2 to reflect the correct name of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and to section 5 to clarify which sailing vessels are eligible for the permits.  We will be glad to provide those to the committee.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any members of the Subcommittee may have.