STATEMENT OF HERBERT FROST, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR NATURAL RESOURCE STEWARDSHIP AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING S. 2324, TO AMEND THE WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS ACT TO DESIGNATE A SEGMENT OF THE NECHES RIVER IN THE STATE OF TEXAS FOR POTENTIAL ADDITION TO THE NATIONAL WILD AND SCENIC RIVER SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
June 27, 2012
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2324, a bill to amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to designate a segment of the Neches River in the State of Texas for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic River System, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 2324, with amendments. The river segment proposed for study exhibits the types of qualities and resource values that could make it a worthy and important candidate for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. However, we believe priority should be given to the 36 previously authorized studies for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic Rivers System that have not yet been transmitted to Congress.
This bill would designate a 225-mile segment of the main stem of the Neches River from the dam forming Lake Palestine in Anderson and Cherokee Counties, Texas, to the flood pool elevation of the B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir in Jasper and Tyler Counties, Texas, to be studied for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This portion of the Neches River retains much of its wild character, and is mostly in a free-flowing state. The upper Neches River corridor contains exceptional wildlife habitat and its location in the heart of the Central Flyway makes it a crucial migratory pathway for ducks, geese, and songbirds. While portions of the river's bottomland hardwood forests have produced timber for decades, they are among the least disturbed in Texas. This section of the Neches River also provides vital habitat for fish and other aquatic animals and supports high-quality boating, fishing and a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Wild and Scenic River designation could support all these attributes.
While the segment of the river that is proposed for study flows through the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge, the Angelina and Davey Crockett National Forests, and State-managed lands, much of this segment of the river runs through private lands. If this portion of the Neches River were designated as a Wild and Scenic River, a comprehensive management plan would be needed and would be developed as part of the study. Although the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act requires the development of a comprehensive river management plan within three years of the date of designation, it has become the practice of the National Park Service to prepare this plan as part of a study of potential wild and scenic rivers when much of the river runs through private lands. This allows the National Park Service to consult widely with local landowners, federal and state land management agencies, local governments, river authorities, and other groups that have interests related to the river prior to any recommendation for designation. Early preparation of the plan also assures input from these entities as well as users of the river on the management strategies that would be needed to protect the river's resources.
We believe there is strong local support for protecting the river system and for studying the river for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Based on this local support and the presence of significant natural, cultural and recreational resources, the National Park Service believes that a Wild and Scenic River study conducted in close partnership with local communities and established partners is consistent with the purposes of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
We recommend amending the legislation by removing the provisions under Section 2 related to private property and recreation. It is premature to place restrictions on the ability of the National Park Service to administer the river before we have completed a study determining whether the river can meet the requirements for designation and before we have identified the types of preservation or management strategies that are necessary and appropriate to protect the river's resources. We would be happy to provide the Committee with suggested language for these amendments.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any additional questions you may have.