Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:00 PM

Mr. Joel Holtrop

Deputy Chief of the National Forest System, Forest Service, Department of Agriculture

STATEMENT OF

JOEL HOLTROP

US FOREST SERVICE

 DEPUTY CHIEF FOR NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

BEFORE THE

UNITED STATES SENATE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS

COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

 

May 11, 2005

 

CONCERNING

 

S. 100 – Pitkin County Land Exchange Act of 2005

S. 235 and H.R. 816 - Nevada National Forest Land Disposal Act of 2005

S. 404 – Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California Land Conveyance

S. 741 – Oregon National Forest Administrative Site Disposal Act

 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee:

 

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today in order to provide the Department’s views on S. 100 –Pitkin County Land Exchange Act of 2005, S. 235 and H.R. 816 - Nevada National Forest Land Disposal Act of 2005, S.404 – Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California Land Conveyance and S. 741 – Oregon National Forest Administrative Site Disposal Act.  I am accompanied today by Greg Smith, US Forest Service Director of Lands.

 

 

S. 100 –Pitkin County Land Exchange Act of 2005

 

S.100 would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to exchange thirteen parcels of National Forest System lands (totaling 11.42 acres) and the Secretary of the Interior to exchange one 40 acre parcel of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land for two parcels of non-federal land (35 acres and 18.2 acres) if Pitkin County, Colorado offers to convey title to the non-federal land that is acceptable to the Secretary of Agriculture.  The lands acquired by the Secretaries would then become part of the White River National Forest in Colorado.  The federal lands would be conveyed to Pitkin County, Colorado.

 

The Departments would have no objection to the enactment of S.100 if the reversionary clause in section 5(d)(1)(B) is modified.  DOI would like the opportunity to work with the Committee and the sponsors of the bill on amendments to ensure that the reversionary clause is discretionary for the Secretary of the Interior to avoid potential liability to the Federal government.  Also, the Departments would like the opportunity to finalize the map cited in the legislation to ensure the accuracy of the federal parcels to be transferred.

 

The acquisition of the non-federal parcels would consolidate National Forest land ownership in and around the historic Ashcroft Townsite and on Smuggler Mountain. The non-federal parcels and surrounding lands are a popular sightseeing and recreation destination used for nordic skiing and contain historic structures associated with the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II.

 

Section 5 (a) – (c) of the bill would require that the value of the federal and non-federal lands directed to be exchanged under S.100 be equal, with values being determined by appraisal conducted in accordance with the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices and the Forest Service appraisal instructions.  The bill includes provisions on equalizing values, if necessary. 

 

Section 5 (d) (1) (A) of the bill requires Pitkin County to grant to an entity acceptable to the Secretary of the Interior a permanent conservation easement.  The conservation easement would provide for public access on the BLM parcel conveyed to the County and would limit future use to recreational, fish and wildlife and open space purposes only.  However, under section 5 (b) (2) of the bill, the appraiser would be directed not to consider the easement in appraising this parcel.

 

 

S. 235 and H.R. 816 - Nevada National Forest Land Disposal Act of 2005

 

For ease of discussion references to S. 235 also apply to H.R. 816, unless otherwise noted.  S. 235 would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to sell seven specific parcels of National Forest System land in Carson City or Douglas County, Nevada ranging from 2.5 to 80 acres in size.   Proceeds from the sales would be dispersed to various state and local entities, and the federal government.

 

Section 3 (d) (1) of the bill provides that the Secretary shall “ (A) pay five percent to the State of Nevada for use for the general education program of the state; (B) pay five percent to the Carson Water Subconservancy District in the State;  (C) deposit 25 percent in the fund established under Public Law 90-171 (commonly known as the Sisk Act; 16 U.S.C. 484a); and (D) retain and use, without further appropriation, the remaining funds for the purpose of expanding the Minden Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden, Nevada, as provided in paragraph (3).” 

 

Section 3 (d) (2) of the bill provides that the amounts deposited in the Sisk Act Fund “shall be available to the Secretary until expended, without further appropriation, for the following purposes:  (A) Reimbursement of costs incurred by the local offices of the Forest Service in carrying out land sales under this section, not to exceed 10 percent of the total proceeds of the land sales.  (B) The development and maintenance of parks, trails, and natural areas in Carson City or Douglas County, (H.R. 816 also lists Washoe County, Nevada), in accordance with a cooperative agreement entered into with the unit of local government in which the park, trail or natural area is located.”

 

The Department agrees these tracts of National Forest System land are difficult and inefficient to manage, and appropriate for conveyance.  However, the Administration is concerned that the proposed use of proceeds from the sale of real property—a conversion of a capitol asset owned by the Federal taxpayer—would support ongoing operational expenses, including those of non-federal entities.   The Department would not oppose the bill if the proceeds generated from the sale of these lands were used to fund critical facility maintenance and construction needs on National Forest System lands.  Considering the nature of the lands proposed for sale, we think the use of these sale proceeds for funding facility projects is appropriate and would further the Forest Service’s facilities realignment objectives.  The President’s FY 2006 Budget includes a more fiscally prudent proposal which would provide the Secretary with the authority to sell administrative sites, to provide more efficient real estate management of lands and facilities throughout the entire National Forest System.

 

We would like to work with the committee and the bill’s sponsors on amendments regarding the distribution and use of the proceeds generated from the sales of these Federal parcels. 

 

S.404 - Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California Land Conveyance

 

PL 108-67 directed the conveyance of approximately 24 acres of NFS land to the Department of the Interior to be held in trust for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.  The proposal in S.404 would shift the conveyance described in PL 108-67 approximately 615 feet south along the Skunk Harbor shoreline adjacent to Lake Tahoe.  The current conveyance includes only rocky shoreline.  S. 404 would include approximately 300 feet of sandy beach.   The conveyance of 80% of the public’s accessible sandy beach area in Skunk Harbor will limit public access to the remaining 90 feet of sandy beach located near the historic Newhall House.  This will limit the approximately 6,000 people who use Skunk Harbor annually to only 90 feet of public beach.  The increased usage of the beach will subsequently increase the management needs for the beach area and the adjacent Newhall House.

 

The Department recognizes the Tribe’s interest in adjusting the conveyance in PL 108-67 but believes S.404 will create additional management challenges.   We would recommend working with the Committee, the Tribe and the bill sponsors on amendments to ensure that the Tribe’s conveyance objectives are met while mitigating the public access issues.

 

The boundary description in S. 404 legislation is not easily identified on the ground.  In order to avoid long term survey and land ownership issues, we recommend that the Bureau of Land Management through the Bureau of Indian Affairs or a private Licensed Surveyor provide a legal description and Record of Survey once the boundary has been determined.  The Department recommends making changes to the boundary tied to identifiably distinct features on the ground (e.g. roads).  These boundary changes would insure a more effective management of the National Forest System lands adjacent to the lands being conveyed to the Tribe.

 

It is important to note that Forest Service personnel, using geographic information system techniques, estimated the adjusted boundary described in S.404 which resulted in approximately 21.6 acres being conveyed rather than the 24.3 acres as mentioned in S. 404 and conveyed under PL 108-67.  This is displayed on the map generated for the hearing today.

 

S. 741 –Oregon National Forest Administrative Site Disposal Act

 

S. 741 would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to sell or exchange, under such terms as the Secretary may prescribe, any or all right, title and interest of the United States in and to the following 25 National Forest System lands and improvements located in the Rogue River, Siskiyou, Siuslaw, Umpqua, and Willamette National Forests in the State of Oregon. S. 741 would also correct an unanticipated problem generated when the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness was initially designated.

 

The specific tracts listed in S.741 are as follows:

 

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

 

(1) The Star Gulch Complex consisting of 2.25 acres and six buildings; 

(2) The Butte Falls Housing Complex consisting of 2.5 acres and four buildings;

(3) The Old Agnes Guard Station consisting of 2.5 acres and six buildings;

(4) The Chetco Ranger District Housing complex consisting of 1.5 acres and 5 buildings;

(5) The Gold Beach House consisting of 0.25 acres and one building;

(6) The Powers South Work Center consisting of 1.59 acres and eight buildings;

 

The Siuslaw National Forest

 

(7) The Gardiner Administrative Site consisting of 3.5 acres and four buildings;

(8) The Waldport Administrative Site consisting of 6.65 acres and four buildings;

 

The Umpqua National Forest

 

(9) The Roseburg Service Center Administrative Site consisting of 2.92 acres and five buildings;

(10) The Roseburg Powder House Administrative Site consisting of 1.34 acres;

(11) Brown Street Residence Administrative Site consisting of 2.35 acres and three buildings;

 

The Willamette National Forest

 

(12) The Blue River Administrative Site consisting of 31.91 acres and ten buildings;

(13) The Hemlock House consisting of 6 acres and two buildings;

(14) The Flat Creek Administrative Site consisting of 45 acres and accompanying buildings;

(15) The Rigdon Administrative Site consisting of 15 acres and accompanying buildings;

(16) The Cascadia Administrative Site consisting of 15 acres and two buildings;

(17) The Sweet Home House consisting of 0.07 acres and one building;           

(18) The Sweet Home House consisting of 1.4 acres and one building;

(19) The Sweet Home House consisting of 0.21 acres and one building;

(20) The Mill City House consisting of 0.30 acres and one building;

(21) The Mill City House consisting of 0.30 acres and one building;

(22) The Mill City House consisting of 0.30 acres and one building;

(23) The Mill City House consisting of 0.33 acres and one building;

(24) The Willamette National Forest Administrative Site consisting of 2.24 acres and five buildings; and

(25) The West Fir residences consisting of 20 acres.

 

The Department appreciates the interest and support of the Committee and bill sponsors in helping us deal with our needs for facilities realignment.

 

S. 741 authorizes the sale of the above mentioned tracts through auction or bid and provides for the use of brokers to facilitate the sales.   In addition any appraisals deemed necessary by the Secretary shall conform to the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions.  Proceeds derived from the sales will be deposited in the fund established under Public Law 90-171 (commonly know as the Sisk Act; 16 U.S.C 484a).  These funds would be made available to the Secretary, without further appropriation, to be used for the acquisition of lands and interest in lands in the specified National Forests, the payment or reimbursement of costs incurred by the Forest Service in processing the conveyance and for the acquisition or construction of new facilities or the rehabilitation of existing Forest Service facilities.

 

As the bill illustrates, the Department has a number of facilities and appurtenant land no longer needed by the agency.  The FY 2006 Budget contains a proposal for legislation that would authorize the Secretary to sell such units excess to the agency’s need and to utilize the proceeds from those sales for the acquisition, improvement, maintenance, and disposition of administrative sites and capitol improvements on National Forest System lands.  Funds deposited under this authority would address backlogs and administrative consolidations while improving efficiencies through the reconstruction of functionally obsolete facilities or construction of new facilities.  This authority would eliminate the need to pass legislation for every State or Forest that has these needs.  The Administration will forward legislative language to Congress within the next several weeks to accomplish these worthy goals.  In this context, the Department could not support S. 741 without the following modification:

 

Under Section 2 (c) the Secretary is authorized to convey, without consideration, to the State of Oregon or a local government for public purposes any or all right, title and interest of the United States in and to any of the land described in subsection (a).  The Department would recommend the lands and accompanying buildings be offered to the State of Oregon or a local government at market value and that proceeds of the conveyance be used for the acquisition or construction of new facilities or the reconstruction of existing facilities.  This approach would then be consistent with the Administration’s legislative proposal.

 

In addition, Section 329 of the Department of the Interior and Related Appropriations Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-63), as amended, established a pilot program authorizing the conveyance of excess Forest Service structures.   The tracts identified in section 2 (a) (17) through (23) have been sold under this authority.   We would recommend removing them from the bill.

S. 741 would make a technical correction of the Rogue Umpqua Divide Wilderness by slightly modifying the boundary so that (1) a road is outside the wilderness by removing approximately 1.3 acres from the wilderness, and (2) by adding approximately 1.3 acres of land with wilderness character to the wilderness to offset the removal.

The original legal description, prepared in accordance with the map of record at the time of designation, inadvertently resulted in a short segment of Forest Service Road No. 2947-300 being within the Rogue Umpqua Divide Wilderness by approximately 20 feet. This has resulted in the closure of the road which is necessary to access National Forest System land beyond the area where the road is within the wilderness area. The small portion of land cut off by the road, which is designated as wilderness, clearly has no wilderness character.

 

This concludes my statement, I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.