A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. New River Gorge National River in West Virginia encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.
Big Southern Butte is one of two domes rising from a sea of basalt near the center of the eastern Snake River Plain in Idaho. The butte is one of the largest volcanic domes in the world, but at 300,000 years old it is also one of the youngest. Hikers who trek to the 7,550-foot high summit are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views. Photo by Devin Englestead, BLM Upper Snake Wildlife Biologist.
First light at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Established in November 22, 1939, the refuge has provided a critical stopover and wintering spot for thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl for 75 years. Bosque del Apache's sandhill crane population has multiplied from 18 birds in the 1840s to more than 20,000 birds today. Photo by Kim Hang Dessoliers (www.sharetheexperience.org).
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 3452, to designate the Valles Caldera National Preserve as a unit of the National Park System, and for other purposes.
The Department supports the protection of the nationally significant natural and cultural resources found at the Valles Caldera National Preserve.We would like to work with the committee to determine the management structure that will provide the highest level of protection and care for the unique resources that are found within the Valles Caldera.
S. 3452 would designate the Valles Caldera National Preserve (Preserve), in New Mexico as a unit of the National Park System, transferring administrative jurisdiction of the Preserve to the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary).The bill would repeal the Valles Caldera Preservation Act and all assets and liabilities of the Valles Caldera Trust (Trust) would be transferred to the Secretary.The bill would also authorize the Secretary to coordinate management and operations of the Preserve with Bandelier National Monument.If S. 3452 is enacted, we look forward to working with the Trust to develop a management plan and capitalize on the proximity of Bandelier National Monument for efficiency of operations, while applying Service First principles of sharing resources as appropriate with the surrounding National Forest.
S. 3452 would authorize grazing, hunting, and fishing to continue within the Preserve and the bill would require the Secretary to ensure the protection of traditional cultural and religious sites including providing tribal access to the sites and temporarily closing specific areas of the Preserve to protect traditional uses.The National Park Service (NPS) has a long history of consultation with First Americans in the preservation and continuation of traditional practices.
Finally, S. 3452 would require that eligible Trust employees be retained for at least 180 days from the date of enactment and the Secretary and the Secretary of Agriculture would be authorized to hire Trust employees on a noncompetitive basis for comparable positions at the Preserve or other units of the National Park or National Forest Systems in New Mexico.
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is an 88,900 acre unit of the National Forest System located in the Jemez Mountains of north central New Mexico. The Preserve was established by Public Law 106-248, the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000, and is managed by the Valles Caldera Trust, a wholly owned government corporation established under the Act. The Trust is charged with mixing elements of both private and public administration while working to achieve resource protection, public enjoyment, and financial self sufficiency goals.
The Valles Caldera is considered to be one of the world's best intact examples of a resurgent caldera (the remains of a huge and ancient volcano with a prominent uplift at its center, in this case present-day Redondo Peak) and is of sufficient size and configuration to allow for long-term sustainable resource protection and visitor enjoyment. The geologic features of the Preserve retain a high degree of integrity and the Preserve's unique setting of expansive grasslands and montane forests provides outstanding scenic values and an array of opportunities for public recreation, reflection, education, and scientific study.
The national significance of the geological resources of the Valles Caldera was formally recognized in 1975 when the area was designated a National Natural Landmark.Additionally, the Valles Caldera was the subject of site investigations and new area studies that were completed by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1939, 1964, 1977, and 1979.An Update Report on the NPS 1979 New Area Study was completed by NPS in December of 2009 at the request of Senators Bingaman and Tom Udall.All of these NPS studies found that the Valles Caldera was nationally significant, suitable and feasible for designation as a unit of the National Park System , and the2009 Update Report reaffirmed the results of the prior studies.In addition, the Forest Service, pursuant to Public Law 101-556, also completed a study of the site in 1993, which was cited in the Valles Caldera Preservation Act.
If added to the National Park System, Valles Caldera would be managed in accordance with the 1916 Organic Act and other Acts that have guided the NPS for nearly one hundred years "to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations", with recognition that the bill allows for continued, sustainable grazing, hunting, and fishing.The NPS has experience with these activities in our other nineteen preserves.
Based on current expenses for Valles Caldera and the cost to operate park units comparable in size and assets, we anticipate the annual cost to operate and manage the park would be approximately $22 million for developmental costs and $4 million for annual operational costs, although more complete cost estimates would be developed through the general management plan.In addition, our 2009 Update Report identifies 5 parcels of private property, totaling 40 acres, that would need to be acquired.Although appraisals have not been completed, the expected costs to acquire this private property and any transfer costs are expected to be minimal.Funds would be subject to the availability of appropriations and NPS priorities.
Furthermore, as noted above, this bill would repeal the Valles Caldera Preservation Act in which Congress authorized the acquisition of a fractional mineral interest under the Valles Caldera Preserve. We have been advised by the Department of Justice that although the condemnation action related to the mineral interest has concluded, the judgment and some fees have not yet been paid. Accordingly, we believe that the bill should state explicitly that it is not intended to affect the authority for the condemnation or the amount or source of any outstanding obligations of the United States related to the condemnation of the fractional mineral interest under the Preserve.
Finally, should S. 3452 move forward in its current form, the Department would like the opportunity to work with the committee to discuss some of the time periods that are outlined in the bill.We are concerned that the 30 day time periods to develop the memorandum of agreement described in Section 3 and the interim budget in Section 4 may not be sufficient.We will be happy to work with committee staff to address our concerns.
The Valles Caldera is a spectacular landscape containing nationally significant resources that are worthy of preservation and protection.We look forward to working with the committee, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Valles Caldera Trust to determine the best way to care for these resources and to allow for their enjoyment by all Americans.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or any other members of the Committee may have.