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, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS,
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING H.R. 160, TO AMEND THE AMERICAN BATTLEFIELD PROTECTION ACT OF 1996
TO ESTABLISH A BATTLEFIELD ACQUISITION GRANT PROGRAM
FOR THE ACQUISITION AND PROTECTION
OF NATIONALLY SIGNIFICANT BATTLEFIELDS AND ASSOCIATED SITES
OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR AND THE WAR OF 1812,
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
July 10, 2008
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 160, to amend the American Battlefield Protection Act of 1996 to establish a battlefield acquisition grant program for the acquisition and protection of nationally significant battlefields and associated sites of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and for other purposes.
The Department supports enactment of this bill.
Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 Sites in the United States
In March 2008, the National Park Service transmitted a study to Congress that identified and determined the relative significance of sites related to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. The study assessed the short and long-term threats to the integrity of the sites. Following the success of the 1993 Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields this study similarly provides alternatives for the preservation and interpretation of the sites by Federal, State, and local governments or other public or private entities.
The direction from Congress for the study was the same as for a Civil War sites study of the early 1990s. As authorized by Congress for this study, the National Park Service looked at sites and structures that are thematically tied with the nationally significant events that occurred during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. The result was a more thorough survey that represents twice the field effort undertaken for the Civil War study.
Alternatives for Preservation and Interpretation
American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) is a small, cost-effective program within the National Park Service that promotes the preservation of battlefields and related sites of all wars on American soil through "planning and partnerships."
The ABPP promotes battlefield preservation strategies for protecting sites of armed conflict that cannot or should not be preserved by Federal ownership, but must nonetheless be saved in order for future generations of Americans to understand the importance of these irreplaceable sites. In order to achieve these goals, the ABPP provides a range of financial and technical assistance to Federal, State, and local partners on issues of battlefield landscape identification, documentation, planning, interpretation, and economic development. The program encourages States, communities, non-profit organizations, and individual citizens to become the stewards of battlefields. By empowering local communities and private landowners to make the best decisions possible, the ABPP enables these communities and owners to develop local solutions for preservation approaches.
The ABPP also provides yearly battlefield preservation project grants to assist communities and organizations striving to save our battlefields. The project grants have helped States, Tribes, and local communities identify and document historic battlefield resources, nominate historic battlefields to the National Register of Historic Places, plan for resource stewardship and conservation, interpret the battlefields for the visiting public, and develop heritage tourism programs that encourage battlefield preservation. An overwhelming majority of these grants, since 1993, have been for Civil War sites. Since the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 report surveys were first begun, the number of grant requests from these wars has increased. It is expected that the release of this report will encourage additional preservation opportunities since the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 report encompasses more total sites than the Civil War report.
In 2002, Public Law 107-359, the Civil War Battlefield Protection Act, amended the original ABPP authorization to establish the battlefield acquisition grant program. It directed the Secretary to submit to Congress a report on updates of the battlefield preservation activities, and authorized appropriations to the Secretary from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for each fiscal year from 2004-2008. These grants help State and local governments acquire Civil War battlefield lands outside of the legislative boundaries of units of the National Park System. The grant fund has been tremendously successful in allowing local preservation efforts to permanently preserve Civil War battlefield land with a minimum of Federal assistance. Grants of $26.3 million from ABPP have leveraged a total of $55.3 million in nonfederal funding. To date, the grant program has assisted in the permanent protection of 13,906 acres at 54 Civil War battlefields.
Much of the success of the Civil War land acquisition grants can be traced to the recommendations found in the 1993 Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields, the development of grassroots preservation actions in local communities, the ABPP's yearly battlefield preservation project grants, and the activities of major national nonprofit organizations such as the Civil War Preservation Trust. With the release of the Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 Sites in the United States, communities interested in preserving their Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites can take the first steps similar to what the Civil War advocates did 15 years ago. These amendments to the American Battlefield Protection Act of 1996 can complement the existing grant program for Civil War battlefields and, in doing so, become a benefit to the American people by providing for the preservation and protection of a greater number of sites from the Revolutionary War and War 1812.
If the committee moves this bill forward, the Department would like to work with staff to make some technical corrections to the bill. Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members may have regarding this bill.