Parks and Wilderness Bills: S 2976



STATEMENT OF STEPHEN E. WHITESELL,

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES AND LANDS,

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,

SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING S. 2976,

A BILL TO DESIGNATE THE SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE WILDERNESS

AT SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE

IN THE STATE OF MICHIGAN

May 19, 2010

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 2976, a bill to designate the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the State of Michigan.

The Department strongly supports enactment of S. 2976.However, we recommend that the wilderness be designated as the "Sleeping Bear Wilderness," rather than "Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Wilderness," as the former is consistent with the style of the majority of wilderness areas in units of the national park system.This legislation would designate 32,557 acres, or 46 percent, of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan's Lower Peninsula as federally protected wilderness.It defines the boundary of the wilderness area as the line of demarcation - the general line formed by the lakeward extent of the first contiguous vegetation that is upland from the high water mark of Lake Michigan.Management of the wilderness area would be in accordance with the 1964 Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.).

P.L. 91-479 established Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on October 21, 1970, in order "…that certain outstanding natural features including forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient (glacial) phenomena…be preserved in their natural setting and protected from developments and uses which would destroy the scenic beauty and natural character of the area…for the benefit, inspiration, education, recreation, and enjoyment of the public."This bill clearly supports the intent of that law.

The park extends nearly 30 miles along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, the most visited of our Great Lakes, and the only one entirely within the United States.It also includes two large Lake Michigan islands with an additional 35 miles of shoreline. The National Lakeshore protects and preserves superlative scenic and recreational resources including towering perched sand dunes that rise as high as 450 feet above Lake Michigan; miles of beautiful sugar sand beaches; sparkling inland lakes and clear streams; important wetlands; and an upland beech-maple Northern Hardwood Forest.This landscape is home to black bear, deer, bobcat, trumpeter swans, raptors, and many species of songbirds.Federally threatened and endangered species include the Piping Plover, Pitcher's Thistle, and Michigan Monkeyflower as well as several state-listed species.The high, perched dunes afford spectacular views across Lake Michigan and over other glacially formed landscapes. The contrast between the open, sunny environment of the dunes and the adjacent lush beech-maple forests is striking.

The park includes many historic features as well. Long before the area became a National Lakeshore, Native Americans, lumbermen, merchant sailors, and farmers visited or settled here. Today, a lighthouse and three U.S. Life-Saving Service Stations, coastal villages, and picturesque farmsteads reflect the National Lakeshore's rich maritime, agricultural, and recreational history and are open for public enjoyment. The region surrounding the National Lakeshore is a popular vacation and summer home destination. In recent times, the area has undergone considerable growth as homes and support services are built for expanding full-time and summer populations.

The park receives nearly 1.2 million visitors each year who enjoy the beaches, hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, bird watching, paddling the lakes and streams, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ferry trips to the islands, touring historic areas, the spectacular views from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, and the rite of passage of the famous Dune Climb.The park maintains over 100 miles of backcountry trails, two campgrounds accessible by vehicles, six backcountry campgrounds, and dispersed camping on North Manitou Island.The National Park Service estimates that the presence of the National Lakeshore brings nearly $30 million of economic benefit to the local community each year.*Native American use of the area extends some 3,000 years into the past and is represented today primarily by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.Nothing in S. 2976 would modify, alter, or affect any treaty rights.

The park encompasses a total of 71,291 acres; about 58,571 acres of land and 12,720 acres of water.Over 30,000 acres of the proposed 32,557-acre wilderness area have been managed as wilderness since 1981, when a wilderness proposal produced under the park's first comprehensive General Management Plan (GMP) was published.Since that time, the five areas of the park proposed as wilderness have provided outstanding recreational opportunities for hikers, backpackers, anglers, paddlers, and hunters with hunting being allowed in accordance with State regulations.A network of hiking trails and numerous camping opportunities will continue to be maintained in this portion of the park, even with the wilderness designation.The additional acres in the current proposal arise from the inclusion of the Sleeping Bear Plateau, an area unsuitable for anything but foot travel that continues to offer outstanding opportunities for solitude.Since formal wilderness designation would not change the way in which visitor use is currently managed in the area proposed as wilderness, there is no reason to believe it would have any detrimental impact on visitation or the local economy, and formal designation may actually have a beneficial impact.

The proposed wilderness area does not include any existing county roads or areas managed primarily for historic resources.This is to ensure the continued availability of the county roads for visitors accessing remote trailheads, beaches, and the backcountry, and to promote visitor access to historic areas.Although the National Lakeshore boundary extends one-quarter mile out into Lake Michigan, none of the waters of Lake Michigan are proposed as wilderness.S. 2976 would authorize the use of boat motors on the surface water of Lake Michigan adjacent to the wilderness and beaching of those boats below the line of demarcation, subject to applicable laws.This is to ensure continued access by boaters to the shoreline beach adjacent to the wilderness area.These have been areas of significant public concern.

Designation of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Wilderness Area will not limit public access or change the way the area is currently being managed for public use and enjoyment.Permanent wilderness designation in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will ensure protection of significant ecological resources and wilderness values along with solitude, quiet, and unconfined recreation for this and future generations in the areas proposed as wilderness within the National Lakeshore.

Between 2006 and 2009, the NPS developed an updated GMP for the park.Because of public concern over the 1981 wilderness proposal, and its inclusion of county roads and historic sites, a formal Wilderness Study was conducted as part of this comprehensive planning effort.Approximately 36,000 acres within the Lakeshore were identified as being potentially eligible for wilderness designation in five areas of the park.After extensive public involvement, review, and comment, including overwhelming public support for wilderness designation, the preferred alternative in the final GMP/Wilderness Study was approved by the Midwest Regional Director on January 6, 2009.The area of proposed wilderness was mapped at 32,557 acres, with a portion in all five eligible areas, and is the same as the proposed wilderness designation in S. 2976.The final GMP/Wilderness Study does not propose wilderness in several eligible areas, including those areas fragmented by the road corridors near the Otter Creek area of the Lakeshore; the land within the Port Oneida Rural Historic District; the lands in the historic "Cottage Row" on North Manitou Island; the area in the South Manitou Island historic farm loop; an area near the historic Bufka Farm identified for a bicycle trail; and the congested area at the top of the Dune Climb.

Passage of S. 2976 would support the overarching vision in the new GMP for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which is to value the lakeshore primarily for preservation of its natural resources, and for the opportunities it provides for visitor enjoyment of natural, cultural, and recreational resources in a scenic outdoor setting. The bill has very strong, broad-based public support.The overwhelming majority of local officials, the conservation community, and the Michigan delegation are united in their support for this bill as a winning resolution to an issue that has been debated since the park's establishment in 1970.Parties that had been bitterly polarized over earlier proposals have reached consensus that this bill strikes an appropriate balance between preserving access and guaranteeing outstanding primitive recreational opportunities.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment.This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.

 

* Stynes, Daniel J."National Park Visitor Spending and Payroll Impacts: 2008."National Park Service, 2009.