A bill to establish the Bandelier National Park and Preserve in the State of New Mexico
STATEMENT OF SHAWN BENGE, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, REGARDING S. 2924, A BILL TO ESTABLISH BANDELIER NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE IN THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO.
MARCH 4, 2020
Chairman Daines, Ranking Member King, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 2924, a bill to establish Bandelier National Park and Preserve in the State of New Mexico.
The Department supports enactment of S. 2924 but would like to work with the sponsor and the Committee to address concerns we have with the bill.
S. 2924 would establish the 29,656-acre Bandelier National Park and the 4,011-acre Bandelier National Preserve. Hunting would be allowed within the National Preserve. The legislation would allow the Superintendent of Valles Caldera National Preserve to manage hunting within the proposed preserve, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior.
S. 2924 would ensure access to traditional cultural and religious sites within the Bandelier National Park and Preserve by members of Indian tribes. The legislation would also allow temporary closures of these sites to the general public to protect traditional cultural and customary uses of these sites by members of the Indian tribe. S. 2924 would allow members that have a cultural affiliation with the land within Bandelier National Park and Preserve or Valles Caldera National Preserve to collect plants and mineral resources within these units for noncommercial traditional and cultural uses.
In addition, S. 2924 would establish a tribal commission that would provide guidance and recommendations to Bandelier National Park and Preserve to develop and implement management plans and policies, and it would require the Department to provide written notice to the tribal commission for any of its recommendations that the Department decides not to implement. S. 2924 would also authorize the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to adjust the boundary between the Valles Caldera National Preserve and the Santa Fe National Forest. Finally, the legislation would authorize limited use of unmanned aircraft for scientific study, search and rescue, fire operations and law enforcement.
When President Woodrow Wilson established the Bandelier National Monument in 1916 by presidential proclamation under the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, he cited the ethnographic, scientific and educational features of the area dating back more than 11,000 years. Bandelier National Monument continues to protect more than 33,000 acres of rugged, beautiful canyons and mesas in northwestern New Mexico. The ethnographic, scientific and educational features remain central to the mission of the monument as well as a draw for the nearly 200,000 annual park visitors who contribute $12.5 million to the local economy.
Redesignating Bandelier National Monument as Bandelier National Park is consistent with the nomenclature patterns of the National Park System. Units designated as national parks generally contain a variety of resources and encompass a large land or water area to help provide adequate protection of the resources. With its wealth of both natural and cultural resources over a large land mass, we believe it is appropriate to designate this unit as a national park.
It is also consistent with National Park Service nomenclature to designate an area that allows hunting as a national preserve, and we appreciate that S. 2924 follows that tradition by naming the area where hunting would be allowed “Bandelier National Preserve.”
Regarding our concerns about S. 2924:
Section 4(b), Traditional Cultural and Religious Sites, states that the Secretary, in consultation with Indian tribes, shall ensure the protection of traditional cultural and religious sites in the Bandelier National Park and Preserve. The Department notes that the National Park Service, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, is currently directed to protect known traditional cultural and religious sites and to consult with Indian Tribes regarding these sites. We are unclear about the reason for including park-specific language for this purpose.
Section 4(b) also states that the Secretary, in accordance with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, may temporarily close an area, or areas, to the general public upon recommendation from an Indian tribe to protect traditional cultural and customary uses by its members. The Department is concerned that the bill’s use of the term “temporary closure” could cause confusion with existing policies. Also, this provision is different from other existing statutes that address similar situations (16 USC § 460uu-47, 16 U.S.C. § 410aaa-75, and 43 U.S.C. § 1786) that use the limiting language which states that “any such closure shall be made so as to affect the smallest practicable area for the minimum period necessary for such purposes.”
Section 4(c), ”Collection of Plants and Mineral Resources by Members of Culturally-Affiliated Indian Tribes”, also raises concerns. Since Congress first authorized certain Pueblos to gather plant and mineral resources in Bandelier National Monument in 2000, the National Park Service has implemented servicewide regulations, under which any superintendent may enter into agreements with Indian tribes traditionally associated with a park for the non-commercial collection of plants and plant parts. This bill does not define the term “mineral resources” or specify permissible methods of mineral resource extraction, which may create uncertainty as to how this provision should be implemented. The term “Culturally Affiliated Indian Tribes” is used differently than in related Federal laws, which may also create uncertainty about implementation.
Section 4(d) would require the Secretary of the Interior to establish a tribal commission for Bandelier National Park and Preserve to provide guidance and recommendations to implement management plans and policies. The commission would consist of one representative from “each Indian tribe with a historical association” with Bandelier National Park and Preserve. Currently, the National Park Service consults with approximately six Federally recognized tribes at Bandelier National Monument regarding undertakings in the monument. However, the State of New Mexico has identified 23 tribes that may have a historical association to an area within the boundaries of the monument, and that number does not include tribes outside the state with a historical association to the monument. This would mean there could be an unknown number of members. In addition, the requirement that the Secretary provide the commission with a written explanation for a decision not to incorporate a recommendation made by the commission would give the commission an unusual amount of authority for a non-Federal commission that is advisory in nature.
The Department supports the authority in Section 4(f) to enable the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to resolve a land management issue by adjusting the boundary between Valles Caldera National Preserve and Santa Fe National Forest. We also support the goal in Section 4(f) authorizing the use of unmanned aircraft at Bandelier National Park and Preserve for certain needs, but we note that it is unnecessary given the National Park Service’s servicewide policy on unmanned aircraft in units of the National Park System.
The Department would appreciate the opportunity to work with the sponsor and the Committee to address our concerns with S. 2924.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.