Parks Bills: H.R. 3022











October 30, 2007

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 3022, a bill to designate the John Krebs Wilderness in the State of California, to add certain land to the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness, and for other purposes.

The Department supports H.R. 3022 if amended in accordance with this statement. This legislation would designate additional wilderness areas in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, and would name one of the new wilderness areas after John Krebs, a former Member of Congress. While we believe these designations are appropriate, we would like to work with the committee on amendments that would address concerns raised by some of the specific provisions in the bill.

Sequoia National Park, established in 1890, and Kings Canyon National Park, established in 1940, have been administered jointly since 1943. The California Wilderness Act of 1984 designated about 723,000 acres in the two parks, or 84 percent of the land base, as the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness. H.R. 3022 would designate as wilderness virtually all the remaining land in the two parks that is appropriate for that designation, adding about 114,488 acres. With this legislation, about 97 percent of the land base of the two parks would be designated as wilderness.

The area that the bill proposes as the John Krebs Wilderness consists of the Hockett Plateau and Mineral King areas of Sequoia National Park, and totals about 69,343 acres. The other area, which would add 45,145 acres to the existing Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness, consists of lands in and around the North Fork of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park and the Redwood Canyon/Chimney Rock area of Kings Canyon National Park. The lands other than Mineral King and Chimney Rock underwent formal wilderness studies in the early 1970's and are recommended by the National Park Service for wilderness designation. The Mineral King and Chimney Rock areas underwent wilderness eligibility assessments in 2003 and both were found to have characteristics which support their designation as wilderness.

The Hockett Plateau protects vast rolling forests of lodgepole pine surrounding spectacular sub-alpine meadows, and is a favorite destination for equestrians, backpackers, and anglers. This area, which has been part of Sequoia National Park since the park was established in 1890, includes the route of the old Hockett trail that was one of the first trans-mountain routes in the southern Sierra Nevada and is popular with hikers, fishermen, equestrians and backpackers. The Mineral King portion includes much of Mineral King Valley, a striking and spectacular example of sub-alpine and alpine environments unlike any other in the Sierra Nevada. Together, these areas contain one of the most significant alpine karst regions in the United States. The area is rich in marble geologic formations with over 70 known caves, and includes at least 17 invertebrate cave species present only in these parks.

The North Fork Kaweah area includes extensive lower- and mid-elevation vegetation communities that are rarely represented in Sierra Nevada wilderness areas. The area contains foothill oak woodland, chaparral, and low-elevation hardwood and conifer forest types. The river is an exemplary foothill river with beautiful pools, riparian borders, and is rich in wildlife including western pond turtle, bear, and mountain lion. The Redwood Canyon area includes all or part of eight Giant Sequoia groves including the Redwood Mountain Grove, the largest Giant Sequoia grove inside Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The area is also rich in marble geologic formations and includes over 75 known caves, including the longest cave in California with over 21 miles of surveyed passage. Chimney Rock is a scenic granite outcrop that serves as a nesting area for peregrine falcons, and as a popular destination for area rock climbers.

We believe it is appropriate to name the Hockett Plateau and Mineral King area as the John Krebs Wilderness. The National Park Service considers it a high honor to be permanently commemorated in a national park and seeks to reserve this honor for cases where there is a compelling justification for such recognition, as there is here. Mr. John H. Krebs, who immigrated to the United States in 1946 and obtained his citizenship in 1954, served on the planning commission and the board of supervisors for Fresno County through the 1960's and 1970's and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975-1979. In 1978, he secured passage of legislation that transferred management of the beautiful Mineral King Valley to the National Park Service. The Valley at that time was slated for development as a downhill ski area, and he led a hard-fought battle to assure the long-term protection of this very special place as a natural area. Mr. Krebs currently resides in Fresno.

We recommend several changes to H.R. 3022 to ensure that the National Park Service is able to manage the lands the bill would designate as wilderness consistent with the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the California Wilderness Act of 1984, as explained below.

First, we recommend that the bill provide for the treatment of roads and development in wilderness that conforms to the standard practice used in other wilderness legislation. That would require revising two of the bill's referenced maps, John Krebs Wilderness Proposal-Hockett Plateau/Mineral King," July 2007, and "John Krebs Wilderness Proposal–Enlargement of Mineral King Area," May 2007, in their depiction of check dams and in the wilderness boundary delineated for Mineral King Road and cabins along the road.

The broader map (July 2007) shows the exclusion of four check dams located in the Hockett Plateau/Mineral King area from wilderness designation. We recommend that the dams be designated as potential wilderness additions rather than be set aside as exclusions. This would allow Southern California Edison, the operator, to continue its hydroelectric power operation as long as it wants. However, in the event that the operator of the dams ceases to operate them in the future, the National Park Service would have the option to convert the area to wilderness through administrative action. The designation of "potential wilderness addition" has been used in the existing Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness and in other wilderness areas in similar cases of non-conforming uses.

The two maps also show a "cherry-stem" of Mineral King Road, a relatively quiet, 1½ lane-wide road, with a boundary at up to one-half mile (2,640 ft.) from center line of road and from one-quarter to one-half of a mile from cabin developments. The National Park Service and other wilderness land management agencies primarily use a road corridor exclusion area of 100 feet off both sides of the center line of a road for major roads, and from 100 to 200 feet away from existing developments. The standard road corridor exclusion is recognizable on the ground and provides for consistent, effective management. It is also the boundary delineation guidance that Congress provided in committee report language (House Report 98-40) for the Generals Highway, a busy, two-lane-wide paved road, when the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness was established as part of the California Wilderness Act of 1984.

Second, Section 4(c)(1) of H.R. 3022 states that if nonmotorized access is not available or time is of the essence, nothing in the Act prevents limited motorized access to hydrologic, meteorologic, or climatological devices or facilities. The existing Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness addresses maintenance and access to these types of devices consistent with House Report 98-40. This committee report language states that, "Modifications, relocations, adjustments and maintenance of these devices are therefore acceptable, but it should remain an objective to minimize any adverse impact of these devices upon wilderness resources where possible, especially as improved technology (e.g. miniaturization) and other factors permit." We recommend that, rather than including the language of Section 4(c)(1), in the bill, the National Park Service be given direction to continue managing maintenance and access to these devices and facilities consistent with the House Report 98-40, allowing current practice to continue throughout both the previously designated wilderness areas and the new wilderness areas designated by this bill.

Third, Section 4(c)(2) states that nothing in the Act precludes the use of helicopters for inspection or surveillance of utility facilities in the vicinity of an area designated as wilderness by this Act. We recommend that this section be struck, as it is unnecessary. The use of helicopters in the vicinity of designated wilderness is permitted currently, when conditions warrant, as a means of access for inspection and maintenance of hydrometeorological facilities, pursuant to the minimum requirement provision of the Wilderness Act and also as provided in House Report 98-40.

Fourth, Section 4(d)(2) states that nonwilderness activities outside of designated wilderness shall not be precluded because they can be seen or heard within the wilderness. We are concerned that this section could affect the National Park Service's ability to protect the designated wilderness. Exempting activities outside wilderness could affect the National Park Service's ability to address noise, pollutants, or other undesirable effects on wilderness that come from outside the parks. We recommend that this section be removed from the bill.

Fifth, Section 4(e) states that nothing in the Act precludes horseback riding in, or the entry of recreational commercial saddle or pack stock into an area that would be designated as wilderness under this bill. The bill as drafted would lead to management conflict by setting different standards for the previously designated wilderness areas and for the new wilderness areas that would be designated by this bill. The parks have long recognized and documented that the use of pack and saddle stock is an appropriate and historically accepted recreational activity in wilderness. The acceptance of this use has been reaffirmed in the parks' 2006 General Management Plan, which is in the final stages of approval. We recommend that Section 4(e) be removed.

Finally, as technical matters, we recommend that H.R. 3022 be redrafted as an amendment to the California Wilderness Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-425), that the bill refer to the "Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness," the name of the existing wilderness area given by that act, and that the maps referenced by the bill include map numbers in addition to titles and dates as is standard practice for legislative maps. We would be happy to work with the committee on these revisions.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

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