Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Ms. Laura Kamala

Director of Utah Programs, Grand Canyon Trust

Grand Canyon Trust
Submitted for the Record
Statement of Laura Kamala, Director of Utah Programs
Before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
May 24, 2006
S. 2788 Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2006


Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of S.2788 the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2006, which my organization strongly supports.


The Grand Canyon Trust, now in our 21st year, is a non-profit conservation organization headquartered in Flagstaff, Arizona with an office in Moab, Utah. Our mission is to protect and restore the Colorado Plateau—its spectacular landscapes, flowing rivers, clean air, diversity of plants and animals, and areas of solitude and beauty.


S.2788 the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2006 will protect valuable recreational lands, critical watersheds, cultural resources, essential wildlife habitat, lands of extraordinary scenic beauty and lands in Wilderness Study Areas by conveying sensitive state-owned lands in the Colorado River corridor to the Bureau of Land Management. The area is currently a checkerboard of federal lands and Utah State Trust Lands (SITLA) which the state is mandated to manage for benefit of Utah’s school children by raising dollars for the Permanent School Fund. This is accomplished primarily through leasing the lands for minerals development or selling the lands for private development. Since conservation dollars cannot keep pace with the disposition of state lands, the proposed land exchange is the only viable way to keep such a broad and cherished landscape from becoming fragmented. Preservation of this landscape is in the interest of members of the Grand Canyon Trust and the American public, since the existing federal estate in southeast Utah is a national treasure.


In addition, protecting the above stated land values is consistent with Grand County’s economy, which is based on tourism. In 2005, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget reported that the tourism industry provided $100 million dollars to Grand County’s economy. This year, tourism related business owners have told me their business is up 10 to 15 percent.


SITLA will receive federal oil and gas development property in Uintah County, slated for development regardless of ownership, ensuring new revenues for their beneficiaries. We support this public benefit for education in the state of Utah. In Uintah County, minerals development is the primary force in the local economy.

Cooperating with Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Utah Wilderness Coalition, SITLA vetted the proposed exchange lands and these groups now approve of the selected lands. Grand Canyon Trust worked with The Nature Conservancy and the Utah Natural Heritage Program to map TES (Threatened, Endangered, Sensitive)
species, both plant and animal, on the proposed exchange lands. Using current data, we found no habitat overlap on lands SITLA would acquire for development while TES species do exist on lands being conveyed to BLM where they would ostensibly have better protection under federal laws.

Since the House hearing on the proposed legislation in September 2005, Grand Canyon Trust has attended meetings of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. Committee staff and officials from Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Utah State Trust Lands have revised HR 2069 the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2005, to address issues raised at the House hearing. We are grateful to the staff and agencies for their cooperation with one another and many hours of time devoted to drafting a better bill which is reflected in S.2788.

Grand Canyon Trust supports the fair and equal exchange of values for the trade. We also support rolling conveyance of the lands as provided in the legislation.

The Landscape

In southeast Utah, the spectacular 1200 square mile basin of Canyonlands National Park lies at the geographic heart of the Colorado Plateau. Here, 300 million years of geologic history are revealed in the deep canyons of the Colorado and Green Rivers. The downward cutting movement of the rivers and their tributaries, through layers of sedimentary rock, continues to form one of the largest and most intricate canyon systems on earth. Upstream on the Green River are Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons, and on the Colorado River, the twin jewels of Arches National Park and Westwater Canyon. S. 2788 will consolidate federal lands for consistent management in this landscape of the Colorado River corridor.
This extraordinary geologic province is filled with the greatest density of natural arches in the world; Morning Glory Arch and Corona Arch will be conveyed to the federal estate in the proposed exchange. Pinnacles, rock fins, grottos, balanced rocks, hoodoos and natural bridges abound, sheltering a richness of species in diverse habitats. Mountain ranges provide watersheds that give life to the adjacent desert country. Vast expanses of bare red rock are broken by lush riparian areas, ephemeral pools, grassland and sage steppes. In this land of extremes, temperature fluctuations of 50 degrees in one day are common, animals and plants have evolved unique adaptations to survive and many of these species are endemic to the region. In addition, southeast Utah contains one of the world’s great archaeological districts where priceless treasures from the past are abundant. S. 2788 will convey lands like these to the BLM where they can be managed to protect their values for the American public.

Conservation Values

There have been numerous acquisitions of SITLA lands in Grand County in recent years by individuals and conservation organizations for the purposes of preserving open space and recreational lands, for protecting watersheds and wildlife habitat. This reflects a very
strong desire and commitment of private resources for protecting this spectacular landscape. Lands offered in the exchange will have higher or lower conservation values; it is the appraiser’s job to determine these values. Developers and even Off-Highway Vehicle groups have outbid conservationists and purchased SITLA lands in the area for their private uses. Conservation sales can be comparable sales in a very competitive market.

As Director of the Southeastern Branch of Utah Open Lands, I was deeply engaged in several conservation initiatives, raising millions of dollars to purchase SITLA lands. In the current economy it has become difficult to procure funding for conservation initiatives, legislative land exchanges are now a very important conservation tool. Approximately 350,000 acres of SITLA lands remain in Grand County and some naturally possess conservation values, such as those adjacent to Arches National Park. It would be impossible to purchase all sensitive SITLA lands to protect them, therefore the Grand Canyon Trust and other conservation organizations working in the state support successful land exchange legislation as a common sense solution for protecting these important landscapes.

Management of Conveyed Lands

Southeast Utah’s living Eden of canyons mesas and deep river gorges attracts recreational users from all over the world who come to hike, mountain bike, climb, run rivers, ride horses, ski and explore via jeeps and all-terrain vehicles. In recent years, an exponential increase in visitation to the public lands has demonstrated the necessity for good planning to accommodate the multiple use mandates on federal lands.

The Moab BLM Field Office is currently revising its Resource Management Plan. Lands being conveyed to the BLM in the exchange will be managed according to the plan that is now being designed for lands currently in BLM ownership which surround the proposed exchange parcels. The Moab BLM planning team has stated that, in the Colorado River corridor, they are working to be consistent with the Three Rivers withdrawal signed by Secretary Norton in September 2004. This withdrawal protects two hundred miles of Colorado, Green and Dolores River corridors and an additional fifty miles of side canyons from nuisance mining claims on locatable minerals for twenty years. Moab BLM planners have written special management designations into their preferred alternative, which they revealed at a Grand County meeting this Spring, to protect scenic and recreational values in the river corridor.

Grand Canyon Trust supports the withdrawal of oil and gas leasing on BLM lands in the Castle Valley municipal watershed where 5,280 acres of SITLA lands are slated to be conveyed to the BLM. The Town of Castle Valley has a Sole Source Aquifer designation from the Environmental Protection Agency and a Pristine Water designation from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. Recent hydrological studies by the Utah Geological Survey show that the aquifer is vulnerable to contamination due to fractured geology. We also support oil and gas leasing withdrawals on recreational lands in the exchange where mineral values are low to negligible.

Closing

The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2006 has a very broad coalition of support, from rural Republican county commissioners to conservation organizations. In the state of Utah it is rare to have consensus of this kind for a public lands management proposal. Conservation organizations were involved early on with the design of the legislation and the process has been transparent. Our colleagues at The Nature Conservancy, Utah Open Lands, Red Rock Forests and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance join us in supporting S.2788. Grand, Uintah and San Juan counties, the Town of Castle Valley, the City of Moab, the Governor’s Task Force on Outdoor Recreation, Utah Guides and Outfitters and tourist dependent businesses in southeast Utah also support the legislation. The Grand Canyon Trust believes S.2788 provides the opportunity for a successful legislative land exchange to take place and we look forward to that eventual outcome.