H.R. 4404

Kissimmee River Wild and Scenic River Act

STATEMENT OF TOM MEDEMA, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, INTERPRETATION, EDUCATION, AND VOLUNTEERS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING H.R. 4404, A BILL TO AMEND THE WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS ACT TO DESIGNATE SEGMENTS OF THE KISSIMMEE RIVER IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA AS A COMPONENT OF THE NATIONAL WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

NOVEMBER 9, 2021

Chairman Neguse, Ranking Member Fulcher, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s (Department) views on H.R. 4404, a bill to amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to designate segments of the Kissimmee River in the State of Florida as a component of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and for other purposes. 

The Department recognizes the importance of protecting free-flowing rivers for the enjoyment of present and future generations.  However, because the National Park Service has not studied the segments of the Kissimmee River to be designated by this bill, the Department recommends amending this legislation to authorize the National Park Service to complete a wild and scenic river study on these river segments.

H.R. 4404 would amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to designate the restored segment of the Kissimmee River, beginning approximately 16 miles downstream of Lake Kissimmee and ending approximately 15 miles upstream of Lake Okeechobee, to be administered by the Secretary of the Interior as a scenic river.

Most rivers are added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System through federal designation legislation after a study of the river’s eligibility and suitability is completed by one of the four federal agencies responsible for the management of wild and scenic rivers.  Congress may authorize a study by amending Section 5(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  A study provides the opportunity to evaluate the river’s eligibility, classification, and suitability.  Eligibility is an evaluation of whether a candidate river is free-flowing and possesses one or more outstandingly remarkable values.  The suitability determination is based on the extent of public support, feasibility of managing the river to protect its values, and consistency with other public uses of the waterway.  A study allows for engagement with the public (including landowners), as well as local, State, and tribal governments.  The study would be completed in close cooperation with the State of Florida, as appropriate.  Upon completion, the Secretary transmits a final study report, including findings of eligibility and suitability and potential classification, to Congress for consideration.

Under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Secretary would be required to complete a Comprehensive River Management Plan three years after designation.  If H.R. 4404 is amended to authorize a study, the Comprehensive River Management Plan may be prepared concurrently during the 5(a)-study period.  This can be especially beneficial if large areas of nonfederal lands exist within the proposed designation or study area, as in the case of the Kissimmee. 

This year, the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Kissimmee River Restoration Project to restore more than 40 square miles of the river floodplain ecosystem, 20,000 acres of wetlands, and 44 miles of the historic river channel.  The Department recognizes the significant restoration work that has been undertaken.  We would appreciate the opportunity to study the river to evaluate the river's eligibility, classification, and suitability for designation including providing an opportunity for public comment.  If amended, the Department would like to work with the Committee on language to address the study, including its scope and timing.

Chairman Neguse, this concludes my statement.  Thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department’s views on this legislation.

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