Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:00 PM

Mr. Scott Cameron

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources, Department of the Interior

Statement of Scott J. Cameron
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources
U.S. Department of the Interior
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
on
S.1552, concerning lands patented to Eastern Washington University
November 2, 2005

Thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S.1552.  This bill would amend P.L.97-435 by extending until December 31, 2009, authorization for the Secretary of the Interior to release a reversionary interest contained in the patent of lands conveyed by the United States to Eastern Washington University.   S.1552 leaves untouched the provisions in P.L.97-435 that protect the public interest and ensure that any transaction is compatible with the education and recreation purposes of the original patent.  We therefore do not object to enactment of S.1552. 

In 1961, the Bureau of Land Management issued a patent (#1216646) to Eastern Washington University for 21 acres of land on Badger Lake, Washington, under the authority of the Recreation and Public Purposes (R&PP) Act, as amended (43 U.S.C. 869 et seq.).  As is standard in patents issued under the R&PP Act, this patent conveyed a restricted title, including the condition that the lands would revert to the United States if either the University or any successor used the land for other than recreational and educational purposes or attempted to transfer title to the land.

By 1979, the University concluded that the 21 acres were unsuitable for the school’s purposes and sought Congressional assistance in exchanging the 21 acres for lands adjacent to the campus.  On January 8, 1983, P.L.97-435 was enacted.  It provided a five-year period—which expired in January of 1988—during which the University would be allowed to sell or exchange the Badger Lake land for property more suitable to its needs, and directed the Secretary of the Interior to release the reverter provision so the lands could be sold or exchanged. 

P.L.97-435 also contained provisions to address the concerns of the Department of the Interior regarding the protection of the public interest (exchange or sale to be at fair market value) and to ensure that any transaction would be as compatible as possible with the intent of the initial R&PP grant (the reversionary interest currently on the land held by the university to be placed on any land either received in exchange or purchased with the proceeds from the sale of the land). Also, as required by P.L.97-435, the University and the Secretary concluded an agreement in 1985 to implement the law. 

No sale or exchange of the land occurred during the five year period allowed under P.L. 97-435.  S.1552 would provide for a new deadline of December 31, 2009, to provide an opportunity for Eastern Washington University to locate land suitable for its needs.

I would be glad to answer any questions.

Statement of Scott J. Cameron
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources
U.S. Department of the Interior

Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
on
S. 405, Conveyance of Certain Public Land in Clark County, Nevada, for Use as a Heliport
November 2, 2005
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to testify on S. 405, a bill that would convey 229 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to Clark County, Nevada, for its use as a heliport. S. 405 would also impose fees on operators for all helicopter flights that occur over the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area (NCA) with the proceeds used for the management of cultural, wildlife, and wilderness resources on public lands in the State of Nevada. The Department supports the goals of S. 405, but cannot support a conveyance of public lands that does not ensure a fair return to the public for the use of those lands.
The BLM recognizes the massive growth occurring in Clark County and understands the need to accommodate local interests and tourism in a way that balances local needs with important environmental considerations. Congress chose to address these concerns through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA) and subsequent amendments that have established a sale boundary within which BLM has worked to provide public lands to accommodate the growth in and around Las Vegas.
The public lands proposed for conveyance in S. 405 consist of 229 acres that lie immediately west of the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, which includes the North McCullough Wilderness Area, and are bordered on the west by Interstate 15. These lands are adjacent to, but fall just outside of, the SNPLMA disposal boundary. The legislation directs the BLM to convey these lands to Clark County for no consideration subject to valid existing rights. The BLM, as a matter of both policy and practice, and in accordance with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), generally requires receipt of fair market value for public lands transferred out of public ownership. This serves to ensure that taxpayers are fairly compensated for the removal of public lands from federal ownership.
Given the high market value of these lands, we strongly recommend that the bill be modified to require the receipt of a fair market value payment for the lands to be conveyed. Alternatively and absent legislation, the BLM could lease these lands to Clark County under the existing authority of Section 302 of FLPMA. Under this scenario, the Department would grant a lease to Clark County and would charge an annual rental that reflects the market value of the land.
S. 405 also imposes a $3 conservation fee for each passenger on a helicopter tour if any portion of the helicopter tour occurs over the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. The bill directs the Clark County Department of Aviation to collect these fees and deposit them in a special account in the United States Treasury to be used by the Secretary of the Interior for the management of cultural, wildlife, and wilderness resources on public land in the State of Nevada. The BLM supports the concept of this provision but recommends that the fees be adjusted for inflation and be deposited in SNPLMA’s Special Account. This would preclude the BLM from having to establish another permanent operating fund with essentially the same function as SNPLMA’s Special Account. It would also give the Secretary additional flexibilities, as provided for in SNPLMA, in addressing environmental needs in Nevada in addition to those defined in the bill.
While the Department defers to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding safety and other airspace issues, we note that the FAA generally opposes legislative mandates for specific flight paths. The Department of the Interior also has concerns about the flight path identified in this legislation. The flight path as identified in the bill, and the anticipated frequency of flights, would greatly impact the very wilderness characteristics and visitor use values that the Congress sought to protect and preserve when it established the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area and the North McCullough Wilderness Area in the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002. These areas contain sites frequently used by Native Americans and others for religious ceremonial purposes. They also provide important migration corridors and resting, breeding, and feeding grounds for desert bighorn sheep, which are a special status species in Nevada. Moreover, visitor solitude and quality recreation experiences would be diminished.
The Department of Justice advises that it has concerns regarding inconsistencies in the bill which we would like to work with the Committee to address.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this bill. We look forward to working with the Committee to resolve the issues discussed above and address the needs of local communities and critical environmental issues in the State of Nevada. I will be happy to answer any questions.

Statement of
Scott Cameron
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources
Before the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests,
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources,
United States Senate
Regarding
S. 1541, Public Land Protection and Conservation Act of 2005

November 2, 2005

 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am Scott Cameron, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources, U.S. Department of the Interior.  I want to thank you for providing the Department of the Interior the opportunity to testify before you regarding S. 1541, the “Public Lands Protection and Conservation Act of 2005.”  We recognize that invasive species are a significant natural resource management challenge on Departmental lands, and particularly in island ecosystems like Hawaii.  We appreciate the continued interest and commitment of this Committee, and Senator Akaka in particular, in addressing the increasing threat of invasive species on native species and their habitats.  The Department concurs with the principles embodied in the legislation, but we believe that the goals of the legislation can be met within existing authorities.

Let me begin by providing you with some background on this issue, followed by brief comments on the legislation.

Programs Promoting Partnerships

Over the past 75 years, we have worked extensively with our partners in states, tribes, with sportsmen, ranchers, and farmers, as well as with our colleagues at the Department of Agriculture, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency to provide technical assistance and grants to help states and private landowners, among others, achieve their land management and conservation goals, while providing benefits for migratory birds, fish, and other species.

On a day-to-day basis, we work closely with nongovernmental organizations and private landowners to improve efforts for cooperative weed management in the West, water management districts in Florida, and small landowners everywhere who want to restore habitat for fish and wildlife.  For example, the Olaa Kilauea Partnership on the island of Hawaii is a cooperative land management effort involving State and federal entities and willing private landowners with the goals of enhancing the long-term survival of native ecosystems and managing 420,000 acres across multiple ownership boundaries.  Management and research of this partnership are currently focused on removing or reducing impacts from feral animals such as pigs, invasive plants and non-native predators, restoring native habitat and endangered species, and providing education and work training in fencing, native plant horticulture and other conservation work to Kulani Correctional Facility inmates.  In addition to the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey within the Department, other partners include the Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve, the Kamehameha Schools, the USDA Forest Service, and the Nature Conservancy.  The partnership has jointly fenced 14,100 acres on State and private lands and eliminated the feral pig population from 9,800 acres, while controlling feral pigs in an additional 4,300 acres.

There are also a large number of grant programs administered by the Department that could be potential tools for addressing invasive species.

The Department’s support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s “Pulling Together Initiative” and other programs also provides matching funds for invasive species management, leveraging funds from other Invasive Species Council member agencies and non-federal partners.  The cooperative conservation component of the challenge cost share programs in the Bureau of Land Management, NPS, and FWS also emphasize building partnerships for the conservation of natural resources and provide expanded opportunities for land managers to work with landowners and others to form creative conservation partnerships.

Through the Secretary’s Cooperative Conservation Initiative, bureau matching funds are made available to landowners and other cooperators at state, tribal, and local levels.  Through partnerships built by programs in this initiative, the Department’s land managers can work with landowners and other citizen stewards to tackle invasive species, reduce erosion along stream banks, or enhance habitat for threatened and endangered species.  Among other things, in fiscal year 2005 we have funded through this initiative projects that are aimed at the eradication and control of tamarisk, Russian olive, and other invasive plants, and reclamation of impacted lands.  Some of these projects, such as the Moab Partners for Restoration, target community and youth projects.

Our State and Tribal Wildlife Grants programs are designed to provide financial assistance for development and implementation of state- or tribally-directed programs and individual projects that address the needs of the species and habitats most in need of conservation, address the species conservation needs that are most in need of funding, and leverage federal funding through cost-sharing provisions.  These programs exemplify our cooperative conservation approach by helping states tailor conservation efforts so that they best fit local conditions, and provides yet another tool for states to use to address the significant impacts of invasive species on native habitats.

FWS’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife, which promotes private landowner cost-share projects for habitat restoration, includes funds targeted for control of invasive plants and subsequent restoration.  The Partners Program has worked with private landowners across the Nation to remove, burn, biologically control, and otherwise combat invasive plants on thousands of acres of wetlands and upland.  This control and management of invasive plants is also part of BLM’s Partners Against Weeds Strategy Plan, BLM’s Strategic Plan, and the National Fire Plan.  The Partners Against Weeds program funds cooperative efforts with landowners to control invasive species and cooperative outreach and education projects with schools and local and county governments.

Departmental bureaus also partner with other federal and non-federal entities on research projects.  The NPS, U.S. Geological Survey, and Bureau of Reclamation partner with the Agriculture Research Service and the U.S. Forest Service, both within the Department of Agriculture, and university scientists to develop and test biological control agents, to conduct studies of stream flow management for vegetation control, and on studies of hybridization to better predict the potential future spread of invasive species.  The USGS also has partnerships with state and county weed departments, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others aimed at mapping currently invaded sites and identifying new invasions.

Finally, the BOR leads, along with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the Saltcedar Biological Control Consortium, a task force comprised of over 40 agencies, and BOR, in collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory, also develops new technologies for determining the amount of water lost from the Rio Grande River due to tamarisk and for restoration potential based upon soil salinity and chemical composition.

As you can see, cooperative conservation through the use of partnerships and challenge cost-share funding has long been a hallmark of the Department’s approach to invasive species control and management.

Crosscut Budget for Fiscal Year 2006

The Administration is also working toward an interagency approach to invasive species control and since the 2005 budget has presented a unified invasive species performance-based crosscut budget through the National Invasive Species Council.  Through this interagency effort, Council agencies work together to develop common goals, strategies, and performance measures.  Under this performance umbrella, new and base funds will be applied to early detection and rapid response as well as control and management focused geographically (Florida, for example) and by species (Emerald ash borer and tamarisk, for example).

While we have made significant strides, we do continue to have challenges in coordinating budget decisions across departments.  However, we continue to improve this important management tool.

In 2006, the Department will focus invasives work on three priority geo-regional areas that also contain an abundance of invasives targeted by National Invasive Species Council priorities.  The bureaus submitted coordinated, joint budget requests for each of these areas, developed in each case by an inter-bureau team.  Increases totaling $2.3 million are proposed for the three areas, and base funding will also be redirected to the coordinated efforts.

Departmental Views on S. 1541

With the above discussion in mind, let me turn to S. 1541.  Generally, the “Public Land Protection and Conservation Act of 2005” would establish grant programs to states to assist in the management of invasive species and would create a rapid response component allowing states to request assistance.  Finally, the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the National Invasive Species Council, is to carry out a comprehensive budget analysis and summary of Federal programs ranked in the thematic categories of the National Invasive Species Management Plan (2001).

While we appreciate the goals of the bill, we have some concerns with the legislation.

First, the Department notes that almost all of the actions called for in S. 1541 can be achieved within existing authorities.  As discussed in some detail above, we have and will continue to support state and private invasive species management activities.  Both BLM and FWS provide funding support through cost share grant programs to promote work on non-federal lands.  Congress has also provided authority for the Department, through the BLM and the FWS, to enter into cooperative agreements with non-federal landowners in which invasive species issues could be addressed.  The Administration recently forwarded proposed legislation which provides NPS with this authority.  Enacting this proposal would be an effective way to address lands neighboring national parks.

In addition, the President signed Public Law No. 108-412 on October 30, 2004, which provides additional authority to the Secretary of Agriculture under the Plant Protection Act (7 U.S.C. 7701 et. seq.) to provide financial and technical assistance to control or eradicate noxious weeds.  That law specifically creates a rapid response program, allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into cooperative agreements with weed management entities to ensure rapid eradication of noxious weeds.

We also greatly appreciate the focus this legislation places on the development of rapid response mechanisms in states, local governments, nongovernmental entities, and tribes.  However, the Department has existing authority under which it may provide financial assistance for this purpose, including the general grant-making authority under the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 which allows the Secretary to make grants for the benefit of fish and wildlife.

We recognize the need for a comprehensive view of invasive species programs, but the development of a crosscut budget should be the responsibility of the National Invasive Species Council; we cannot support changing this to the Office of Management and Budget, as proposed in S. 1541.  The Council was created by Executive Order 13112 to coordinate federal invasive species policy and programs and, as mentioned previously, has already developed crosscut budgets in 2005 and 2006.  The Council should retain this responsibility.

Finally, we have concerns about the Congressional expectations that might arise from the sizeable authorization levels contained in this legislation which would authorize assessment grants at $25 million for FY 2006, control grants at $175 million for FY 2006, and rapid response assistance at $50 million for FY 2006, and “such sums as are necessary” for FYs 2007-2010.  We cannot support these authorization levels, and note that any new funding provided for the program authorized by this legislation would have to compete with existing programs and other Administration priorities.


Conclusion

The Department is committed to identifying, assessing, and acting to address invasive species.  We agree with the principles embodied in this legislation and will continue to work with our partners to develop a more effective assessment and control strategy for responding to animal and plant invasions.  Our goal is to ensure the protection of our land and water resources and to promote the restoration of important wildlife habitat impacted by invasive species.

Again, while we share the Committee’s concerns and interest in this issue, we note that almost all of the actions called for in this legislation can be achieved within existing authorities.  We offer to work with the Committee to ensure that existing programs and authorities are effectively targeted to address the Committee's concerns.  Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement and I am happy to answer any questions that you might have.