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Wilderness and Mining Bills: S 3294




Statement of

Carl Rountree, Director

National Landscape Conservation System

Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests

S. 3294, Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act

June 16, 2010

Thank you for the invitation to testify on S. 3294, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act.The Department of the Interior supports S. 3294 as it applies to lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and would like the opportunity to work with the sponsor and the Committee on technical modifications to the legislation.We defer to the Department of Agriculture regarding provisions of S. 3294 which apply to National Forest System Lands.

Background

The Boulder-White Clouds area of central Idaho captivates the imagination with crystal lakes, high mountain backcountry, and abundant wildlife.Hunters, hikers, ranchers and other stakeholders have come together to support preservation of these unique and treasured lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service (FS) and the BLM.

The lands managed by the BLM in this region represent diverse ecosystems ranging from lower elevation sagebrush and grasses to lodgepole and limber pine at the higher elevations.There are large forested areas in the upper reaches of Bear, Mosquito, Sage, and Lake Creek drainages.The highest point is Jerry Peak at over 10,000 feet where there are spectacular vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges.Herd Lake, at over 7,000 feet, is a small blue gem within the steep rocky terrain.From the small Herd Lake campsite visitors can hike the trail along the creek to Herd Lake.The shores of the lake have scattered pines and there are wonderful opportunities to fish for rainbow trout.

This varied and magnificent terrain provides habitat for wildlife including deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, and antelope.Coyotes and golden eagles are also common. The area is attractive to hunters and a significant portion of the yearly visitation occurs during hunting season.

S. 3294

S. 3294 is the result of many years of collaborative efforts by the Idaho Congressional delegation.Their dedication to resolving public land use issues in central Idaho is commendable.

Section 101of the bill designates three new wilderness areas—Jerry Peak Wilderness (128,000 acres), White Cloud Wilderness (90,000 acres), and Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness (110,000 acres).Approximately 32,000 acres of the proposed Jerry Peak Wilderness are managed by the BLM, along with approximately 450 acres of the proposed White Cloud Wilderness.The FS manages the other federal lands within the proposed wilderness areas.The Department of the Interior supports the proposed wilderness designations on lands managed by the BLM and would welcome the opportunity to work with the sponsor and the Committee on minor boundary modifications to the Jerry Peak Wilderness to improve manageability.We would also like to recommend minor modifications to management language to be consistent with usual wilderness management language.Section 108 releases nearly 80,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in four wilderness study areas (WSAs) from WSA restrictions thereby allowing a full range of multiple uses.

Livestock grazing on the public lands designated as wilderness, and in the surrounding area, is addressed in section 102(e) of the bill.The BLM supports this standard language on the management of livestock grazing on public lands within designated wilderness.

Section 102(e) also establishes the "Boulder White Clouds Grazing Area" on nearly 770,000 acres of public lands administered by the FS and BLM—surrounding and including the three areas designated as wilderness.Under the provisions of this section, ranchers with Federal grazing permits or leases within this area may choose to voluntarily donate their permits or leases to the Secretary of Agriculture or Interior.The Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture are required to accept these donations, and to permanently terminate all grazing on the land covered by the permit or lease.Partial donation and congruent partial termination of grazing is also provided for under this subsection.

Grazing can be a compatible use within wilderness, and there is a long history of legislation accommodating grazing within wilderness designations.However, we also recognize and support the proposal by the Idaho delegation to allow voluntary and permanent reductions in grazing in these unique and environmentally sensitive areas.

Title II of S. 3294 provides for the conveyance, at no cost, of 12 small tracts of public lands to local governments for public purposes.The BLM supports the conveyances of ten individual parcels of BLM-administered lands to local governments, but notes that these conveyances could largely have been accomplished administratively under the Recreation and Public Purposes (R&PP) Act.We defer to the FS on two conveyances of National Forest System lands.As provided in the bill, each of the conveyances of lands managed by the BLM would be for uses consistent with public purposes allowed under the R&PP Act.

The R&PP Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to lease or convey public lands at nominal cost for recreational and public purposes, including parks and other facilities benefiting the public.In general, the BLM supports appropriate legislative conveyances if the lands are to be used for purposes consistent with the R&PP Act, and if the conveyance includes a reversionary clause to enforce this requirement.

Among the proposed conveyances of BLM-administered public lands are 10 acres for a fire hall and 80 acres for a waste transfer site to Custer County, and 23 acres to the city of Clayton for a cemetery.The BLM has reviewed each of these conveyances in the bill.We believe they are in the public interest, and support their no-cost conveyance to the local governments to address local public needs consistent with uses that would be allowed under the R&PP Act.

Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of S. 3294.We look forward to working cooperatively with members of the Idaho delegation and the Committee to protect these significant landscapes and provide important public benefits to local communities.