Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Mr. Bob Warren

Chairman, National Alliance of Gateway Communities

STATEMENT OF BOB WARREN

CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF GATEWAY COMMUNITIES

TOURISM DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, CITY OF REDDING, CALIFORNIA

 

TO

 

THE SUBCOMMITEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS

THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND RESOURCES

                            

REGARDING

H.R. 585

THE GATEWAY COMMUNITIES COOPERATION ACT

 

May 10, 2006

 

 

Thank you, Chairman Craig and other subcommittee members, for the opportunity to testify on behalf of H.R. 585.  I am here as Chairman of the National Alliance of Gateway Communities (NAGC) and I am also representing the City of Redding, California, as the Tourism Development Manager.  Redding is the perfect example of a gateway community.  Within a ten-mile radius, there are the boundaries of a National Park Service Unit, Bureau of Land Management lands, and a National Forest.  The City benefits from this close proximity to Federal lands, attracting significant tourism dollars, and, of course, the lifestyle blessings of actual proximity to beautiful natural attractions.  Visitors to our Federal lands benefit also from the first class tourism services available in Redding, which has hundreds of private tourism service businesses. The NAGC represents the interests of those communities that serve as gateways for millions of visitors to our magnificent Federal public.  The NAGC was actually formed with the encouragement of the major Federal land management agencies, which felt there was a need for an organization to help small gateway communities become more skilled at interacting with Federal agencies.  This organization is the only national organization solely dedicated to representing the interests of gateway communities.

 

I am pleased to note that the NAGC is joined in its support of H.R. 585 by the National Association of Counties, the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds, the National Bus Association, the National Tour Association and the Travel Industry Association of America.

 

On behalf of the NAGC and gateway communities everywhere, we thank you, Mr. Chairman, for considering this historic bill in this hearing.  To the best of our knowledge, it is the first bill ever to focus exclusively on the needs and concerns of gateway communities.

 

Gateway communities, by their very nature, are close to public lands.  They have a symbiotic relationship that creates an arrangement where the public land units need the communities for their services, while the communities need the public lands as attractions.  In California and in the West, and in many other parts of the nation, communities are transitioning to more diversified economies, less based on resource extraction.  We know that, in the future, visitors to public lands will play an increasingly more important role in the economies of our gateway communities.  In rural California, every $68,000 spent by travelers creates one new job.  Also, many of those visiting public lands are international visitors who often make their visit to America a visit to rural America.  Germans alone account for hundreds of thousands of visits to public lands in California annually.  One national park in Northern California surveyed visitors during a recent one-month period, and eleven percent of all visitors were German.  Obviously, the dollars spent by these foreign visitors and others are important to both the economies of gateway communities as well as to the national balance of trade.  Those of us in the West also know that public lands will continue to be the “magnets” that draw both domestic visitors and internationals back to our rural communities. 

 

The Need:  Why H.R. 585 Is Important

 

Many of the supervisors, superintendents, and managers of public land management units are keenly aware of the importance of working with their gateway communities.  I know in my area, many of them make daily efforts to interact with community leaders.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are too many cases where relationships are inconsistent and unreliable and are often too dependent on the personalities involved.  What we want to do by enacting this legislation is to take a major step towards institutionalizing those relationships by putting them on a firmer statutory base. 

 

There are also examples of Federal land managers showing little concern for the economics of gateway communities and purposefully attempting to affect development outside their management units.  In one instance in the Northwest, a new national park superintendent was interviewed for an article in a major newspaper in which he indicated opposition to a planned destination resort more than 11 miles from the park that he managed.  Unfortunately, he had neglected to communicate with the developer who had, for the previous nine years, worked in concert with the park superintendent’s predecessor and staff on the planning of this resort.  H.R. 585 would certainly not have affected his ability to speak out on this issue, but he would have at least known that he also would need to develop a relationship with the adjacent communities, so when issues related to important park management decisions came up, the community would be part of his thought process. 

 

Many of the management plans for significant public land devote hundreds of pages to natural resource preservation, while devoting just a paragraph or two to the people who live in or adjacent to that unit.  Their frustration is exacerbated when their communities do not have a “seat at the table”.

 

For example, although economic and social impacts are supposed to be considered in national forest management plans, the plan for the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona has about one paragraph that addresses gateway issues with more than 100 pages addressing various habitat scenarios.  Careful consideration is given to the goshawk, but little is given to the gateway communities and the people who live there.  Now we want to be clear.  We do not object to thorough consideration of environmental and wildlife issues; indeed we strongly support such examination.  But surely the interests and concerns of gateways and the families and businesses that make their homes there should also get serious consideration. 

 

In the mid-1990s, the five communities that are gateways to Yellowstone National Park decided to form the Yellowstone Gateway Alliance to speak with one voice on issues of common concern to all of them.  The superintendent of the park at that time flatly refused to talk with the gateways as a group, although he was more than willing to meet with other interest group coalitions.  Conversely, today the community of Cody, Wyoming, the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, is enjoying an excellent rapport with the current park superintendent, Suzanne Lewis and her staff. Cody has had input in park road maintenance affecting the east entrance and their tourism economy. Working together they now describe road work as “road improvements” rather than “construction” and refer to “hours of operation” rather than “closures.”

 

For more than 50 years the small tourism community of Cody has realized the importance of a respectful and working relationship with the Yellowstone National Park administration and community leaders. The Cody National Park Committee meets at least three times a year with Yellowstone officials to make certain communication lines remain open and issues get identified and dealt with before they become problems. Although the community realizes it is extremely fortunate to have exemplary working relationships currently with its Federal partners, it also understands that has not always been the case, and that those relationships can and often do change with new administrations. For this reason, Gene Bryan, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, declares that, “We believe the Gateways bill gives us some level of assurance that gateways like Cody will be involved in critical management issues – multi-year plans, plan revisions, specific issues (winter use, for example).  We don’t expect all our ‘wants’ and ‘desires’ to be met, but we do appreciate being listened to.”

 

Another community adjacent to Yellowstone experienced similar challenges.  West Yellowstone, Montana, a small gateway community of about 1100 people literally situated at the west gate of Yellowstone National Park and bounded on all other sides by Forest Services lands, provides lodging and ancillary needs for over 2 million visitors a year, and of course is heavily impacted by decisions made at the Park and with Forest Service managers.  West Yellowstone should indeed be a partner with the Park, providing infrastructure and facilities to handle their visitors and contributing significantly to the visitor experience.  In the late 1990’s the community attempted to meet the challenge and heavily bonded for municipal services.  But, as a result of changes precipitated by the 2000 Winter Use Plan, the total number of winter recreational visitors from the west gate has dropped from 70,371 visitors in 1970-71 to 28,242 in 2005-06.  This has been devastating, and has caused 10 local businesses to close in the winter. The gateway communities around Yellowstone National Park count on winter access into Yellowstone as part of their economic viability.  The 2000 winter use plan for Yellowstone called for a ban on snowmobile usage in the park.  Despite repeated attempts by local gateway towns to obtain cooperating agency status during the development of that winter use plan, they were never given the opportunity to be “at the table” with the neighboring states and adjacent counties during this process. 

 

Another example of “challenging relations” is Yosemite National Park.  Attendance at Yosemite National Park was growing quite steadily prior to the flood of 1997. A General Management Plan had been put into place to address the anticipated future of resource protection in light of these trends. Implementation of the 1980 General Management Plan was on hold during the years leading up to 1997 due to lack of enough funds to support both day to day operations and plan implementation. The emergency funds awarded by Congress to Yosemite National Park officials, posed an opportunity too good to pass up. Several implementation plans were “tweaked” and the Yosemite Valley Plan emerged to support the 1980 General Management Plan principles. The foundational intent of the planning process has become well know to most Californians, i.e., to eliminate cars and limit access to bus transportation.  This has left a significant portion of the public searching for a more convenient alternative for vacations and getaways. Visitors Bureaus from around Yosemite are questioned at nearly every travel show and conference they attend about the ability to drive into the park. Since 1997, visitation to Yosemite remains relatively flat, compared to the 1997 figures.  A variety of park management decisions have lead to the public voting on these decisions by choosing not to visit. The Park management’s concern with stagnant visitation seems to be low on the priority list and may give some hint to the need for better cooperation between Yosemite and the gateway communities.  Gateway community leaders around Yosemite often feel the Park’s quarterly "Gateway Partners" meetings are in reality just "show and tell" sessions, with little input being taken from the gateways. Those in the communities who call them such, are characterized as "uncooperative" or "radical gatewayers" who will never be satisfied.

 

When communities are making significant planning changes, especially involving land use issues, they are required to comply with a host of Federal environmental mandates.  Many agencies often comment on their proposed planning efforts.  This makes for a one-way street, as the communities have far less opportunity to comment on proposed changes on adjacent Federal lands.  Although H.R. 585 does provide gateway communities a “seat at the table,” the bill does not give a gateway community a veto over agency programs, actions, or policies.  The bill would promote cooperation and coordination and give local Federal land managers a greater understanding of the needs and perspectives of their adjacent communities.  I might add that it will also give local leaders a greater understanding of the needs and perspectives of their local Federal land managers.

 

Defining Gateways

 

It is difficult to use specific geographic, demographic, social or economic criteria to define and identify all gateway communities.  Previous efforts to define gateways as those communities within so many miles of a particular Federal land site, or with a maximum population base, or as generating so much tax revenue from visitors to the Federal land site inevitably fall short of encompassing the full range of gateways.  There are always notable exceptions to any such formula.

 

For these reasons, we support the approach taken in H.R. 585.  After requiring that gateway communities be incorporated or recognized in a “county or regional land use plan or within tribal jurisdictional boundaries.” The decision as to whether a community is a gateway is delegated to “the relevant Secretary (or the head of the tourism office for the State)” who are required to determine whether the community “is significantly affected economically, socially, or environmentally by planning and management decisions regarding Federal lands.”

 

We believe the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture and the State Tourism Offices are in the best position to determine the degree to which the community is affected by its Federal land neighbor.

 

What This Bill Will Not Do

 

Now let me try and clarify some possible misimpressions about this Gateways Bill.

 

First, we do not believe it is an invitation to “bash the agencies.”  Many local Federal land managers understand the importance of good relations with their gateway communities and make  proactive attempts to cultivate those good relations.  They are to be commended.  At the national level, the Federal land agencies recently have increasingly recognized the importance of gateways. 

 

Second, H.R. 585 does not gives gateway communities any type of veto over policies, decisions, programs or activities of any Federal land agency.  It does not give any gateways preference or priority over any other stakeholder.  That has never been the intent of the bill.

 

Third, we do not believe that H.R. 585 will encourage litigation by gateways communities over agency plans or decisions.  For several reasons, including a lack of financial resources, it is extremely rare for gateway communities to initiate litigation challenging the Federal agencies. To the contrary, we believe that the closer communication and dialogue and better partnerships that will be fostered by H.R. 585 will make future litigation much less likely. 

 

Fourth, we do not think that H.R. 585 is, in any way, contrary to the environmental values and goals of our nation.  No one loves the natural beauty and wildlife of our magnificent national parks, forests and other Federal public lands more than those who have chosen to spend their lives in the communities next door to them.

 

Fifth, we do not believe that H.R. 585 elevates local interests over the national interests.  We recognize that we are talking about national parks and national forests, and they must always be responsive first and foremost to national values and priorities. Nothing in this bill would change that.

 

Sixth, H.R. 585 does not place any additional mandates on gateway communities.  It will be the voluntary choice of the gateway as to whether it seeks to utilize any of the provisions of the bill.

 

What This Bill Will Do

 

H.R. 585 is a balanced, reasonable response to a widespread concern.  As we have noted, in many instances, relationships between Federal land agencies and their gateway communities are harmonious and productive.  Many Federal land managers and local leaders do indeed “get it” and work harmoniously together.

 

They understand that the community and the Federal land are inevitably interconnected.  They understand that it is not a “zero sum game,” but that the health and vitality of one has a direct impact on the other. They understand the imperative of being “good neighbors” with their gateways.  They understand that the Federal lands are poorly served by gateway communities that are weak and resentful,

 

But this is not always the case.  In the last decade, in 1998 and in 2002, there have been two major State-Federal Conferences devoted to gateway communities.  At both conferences, two common refrains were that the agencies too often ignored the interests of gateways without reason and that many gateways have insufficient staff and expertise to participate in a truly meaningful way in agency policy-making processes.  At present, it is up to each Federal land manager to decide what relationships he or she wants to have with gateway communities.  There has never been a statutory declaration that gateway communities are critical to the mission of the agencies and that cooperation and coordination should be fostered. 

 

The first and greatest value of H.R.585, therefore, is to declare as a matter of national policy that Federal land managers are required

 

to communicate, coordinate and cooperate with gateway communities in order to –

 

(1)   improve the relationships among Federal land managers, elected officials and residents of gateway communities;

(2)   enhance the facilities and services in gateway communities available to visitors to Federal lands when compatible with the management of these lands, including the availability of historical and cultural resources; and

(3)   result in better local land use planning in gateway communities and decisions by the relevant Secretary.

 

The bill thus provides historic recognition by Congress that gateway communities are integral to the mission of the public lands, the first points of contact for visitors and the providers of essential services to both visitors and the public lands.

 

In the closing days of the Clinton Administration, T. Destry Jarvis, then Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, wrote: “ . . . no land-use decision around a national park is exclusively local or national, but always has implications on both. The National Park Service should realize its affirmative responsibility to actively participate in local land-use decisions, and should similarly be aware of the effects of its decisions on its neighbors, allowing them to be involved in the process of arriving at those decisions.”  H.R. 585 would be an historic step towards that goal.

 

Too many times, small gateway communities – towns and counties – are expected to interpret and comment on complex agency draft planning documents without staff and expertise to interpret and evaluate the potential ramifications of those plans for the communities. 

 

In this regard, let me enter in a statement from an NAGC director.  This statement is from Karen Alvey, former mayor of Kanab, Utah, who over the years, has tried hard to ensure that the Escalante National Monument is developed in accord with both national and local values and goals.

 

After much thought, I have decided that the whole process of planning on public lands must be done with the communities at the table, and early on.  Most of the public officials have other jobs, cannot afford full time staff to attend and gather information, and lack the knowledge to make good decisions on management issues.  If it is mandated to invite the community’s leaders in early so that they can become educated, then better decisions will be made. Currently, planning seems to go on forever, then decisions are made and announced to the communities.

 

H.R. 4622 would enable gateways to be much more meaningful participants in those agency planning processes by:

 

(1)   receiving early, non-technical summaries of such plans, their assumptions and objectives and the anticipated impact on gateway communities;

 

(2)   receiving the earliest practicable public notice of proposed decisions that may have a significant impact on gateway communities;

 

(3)    receiving training from the agencies about their planning processes and how they can best participate;

 

(4)   receiving technical assistance from the agency, including detailed agency staff to work with the gateway to understand and respond better to proposed agency plans;

 

(5)   receiving, on request, a review from the agency of its land use, management or transportation plans likely to affect the community;

 

(6)   entering into cooperative agreements to coordinate local land use plans with those of the Federal land agency, other Federal agencies, State governments and tribal governments;

 

What these provisions would do is to institutionalize gateway community involvement with their Federal land neighbors.  It would systematize and set parameters on planning processes that have until now been inconsistent and unclear from the perspective of local communities.  Plans do matter.  The Federal land agencies are guided (and limited) in future years by the assumptions and conclusions of their plans.  They will be better plans – more effective and more accepted -- with greater community involvement.

 

It is also worthy of special note that H.R. 585 will require interagency coordination and consolidation when the plans and planning processes of two or more Federal land agencies are anticipated to have an impact on a gateway community.  This will go a long way towards reducing overlap, redundancy and confusion for gateways near multiple Federal lands with multiple plans.

 

Summary and Conclusion

 

In closing, I don’t think we can any longer deny our gateway communities legal standing in the Federal decision-making process.  Often, Federal lands are the foundation of a community’s culture, commerce, and heritage. Decisions affected those lands are often politicized and charged with emotion, as shown by the proliferation of litigation by outside groups (although typically not by gateways).  The politics and emotions are dramatically played out in our communities.  This wrenching drama is for naught, if our communities cannot have a meaningful stake in the process.   Often, this process is affected by the sparse rural population political representation in the West, pitted against well meaning, urban political agendas driven by well-financed and staffed special interest groups.  This leads to many gateway communities feeling as if they are being treated like children, when told to “eat your vegetables, it’s what’s best for you”. H.R. 585 will modify the process and level the playing field by directly and appropriately including gateway communities.

 

Leaders in gateway communities are faced with the daily tension of attempting to balance commerce and conservation, of preserving enduring wildness while enhancing economic well-being.  Our communities will survive only if we are constantly ensuring that the needs of nature are met while people are allowed to make a living.  This tension is of course by choice, as those of us who live in rural, gateway locations most often would choose to be nowhere else.  We feel that this important bill will help bridge the gap between today and tomorrow, while striving to preserve all that is natural, as well as maintaining the character of our communities.  A consistent Federal process of inclusion of the leaders of gateway communities would improve the process, the politics, and the outcome.  All we ask is some say in our future. 

 

If gateway communities are to continue to be healthy partners, it is imperative that there be greater collaboration in the planning process.  Local input should be considered, so as not to make oversights in judgments and decisions that could be avoided with true partnership relationships.  At times decisions are made by Federal land managers without much consideration of the impact on the communities, the process of fostering healthy relationships or the local economics. The communities are left to pick up the pieces and try and fix what becomes broken in the process.  Such problems could have been averted with collaboration at the appropriate time.

 

We believe it was never the intent of Congress or the agencies to have the personalities of supervisors, superintendents, or other land managers determine the level of cooperation between gateway communities and the federal lands units. H.R. 585 would not compel any manager to talk to coalitions of gateway communities or dictate the terms of partnerships, but it would clearly declare that the intent of Congress is to support much greater cooperation, coordination and communication between gateway communities and Federal land managers.

 

H.R. 585 would result in closer, more productive cooperative relationships between gateways and Federal land managers, benefiting both the communities and the federal lands, responding to both national and local values.  H.R. 585 would enhance the capability of gateways to participate more effectively and more meaningfully in agency planning processes for the betterment of all.  It should become law.  Mr. Chairman, H.R. 585, is landmark legislation.  Its enactment will open a new day for gateway communities throughout the nation.

 

Thank you for your consideration.  We look forward to working with you to ensure enactment of this vital legislation.