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The Honorable John EnsignU.S. Senator
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Larry BennaBureau of Land Management
Lawrence E. Benna
Deputy Director, Operations
Bureau of Land Management
Senate Energy & Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Hearing on S. 1170, Fort Stanton-Snowy River National Cave Conservation Area Act
July 20, 2005
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of S. 1170, the Fort Stanton-Snowy River National Cave Conservation Area Act. This new discovery is both exciting and awe-inspiring. Our responsibility, as emphasized in the legislation, is to protect the special scientific values of this new discovery. As Senator Domenici stated upon introduction of his legislation, this new discovery “can only be described as magnificent.” We agree completely.
The first documented exploration of the Fort Stanton Cave in south central New Mexico was in the mid-19th century, although there is evidence that native peoples previously explored its environs. This cave system has been extensively explored and is opened, on a permitted basis, to the public. Scout troops, amateur cavers (cave explorers) and the general public have explored this cave for years. Also, for many years volunteer groups of scientists, cavers and other professionals working in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have been searching the Fort Stanton Cave system for additional passages that would expand the known cave system. In 2001, they confirmed a new passage into a previously unknown expansion of the cave system; public disclosure was delayed until just two months ago in order to ensure protection of the unique cave ecosystem. This initial discovery was spearheaded by BLM volunteers John Corcoran, Lloyd Swartz, John Mclean, Don Becker, and Andrew Grieco.
Following the discovery, a careful, systematic and scientific process of exploration of the expanded cave system began. Cavers have their own protocols to assure documented and scientific exploration of virgin passages. The first rule is to do no harm and proceed with caution. On discovery of a new extraordinary expansion of the cave system complex, while human instinct would compel us to charge forward, for cavers the imperative is to stop. Caves are fragile ecosystems and their wonders can be easily and unintentionally destroyed. Fighting against human instinct, they stopped and they studied before they proceeded. The rewards they have reaped have been numerous.
As they began their systematic and scientific search of the cave, they were careful to keep all contact with the non-cave world at bay. Entering the Snowy River Cave complex involves a 600-yard crawl through spaces no larger than 10 inches high. Upon arrival, all dirty clothes are changed and clean jumpsuits and shoes are then worn. No outside substances are brought into the cave and airflow is restricted so as not to contaminate or depressurize the cave environment.
Exploration of the Snowy River complex will be a slow and thoughtful process. The complex includes “Snowy River” of calcium carbonate (calcite) that runs at least two miles through the base of the cave. To our knowledge, this is a unique phenomenon probably caused by an ancient slow moving river which over centuries dissolved the calcite from the surrounding stone and
re-deposited it as a snowy carpet down the length of the cave.
We are making additional exceptional discoveries throughout the cave. The BLM is partnering with the caving community, scientific community, and local universities to ensure that the cave’s mysteries and resources are properly treated, studied and analyzed. Dr. Penny Boston, the Director of the Cave and Karst Studies program at New Mexico Tech indicates that 16 organisms have been isolated to date from the cave that are unique and may exist nowhere else in the world. These organisms appear to survive by eating rock. This discovery lends itself to possible practical applications in the field of pharmaceuticals.
The BLM is committed to continuing these and other partnerships to explore fully the Snowy River Cave system. To date, over two miles of the system has been mapped. The full extent of the system has not been determined, but the scientists and cavers tell us that they expect many more miles of cave passages are left to be explored. In addition, there are also numerous other caves within the Fort Stanton area which contain significant cultural resources now under study.
The legislation before the Committee today would create the first conservation area dedicated to protecting cave resources. Its goal is to "secure, protect, and conserve" the Fort Stanton-Snowy River cave system. We strongly support those goals and the legislation to implement them. We would like the opportunity to work with Senators Domenici and Bingaman and the Committee staff to modify S. 1170 to improve management of the area to offer a number of technical refinements of the bill.
Each of the National Conservation Areas (NCAs) designated by Congress and managed by the BLM is unique. However, for the most part they have certain critical elements, these include: public land, mining, and mineral leasing law withdrawal, OHV use limitations, and language which charges the Secretary to allow only those uses that further the purposes for which the NCA is established. Furthermore, NCA proposals do not diminish the protections that currently apply to the lands. The Fort Stanton-Snowy River NCA proposal largely honors this spirit and we would like the opportunity to work with the sponsors to further develop appropriate protections.
This NCA proposal is unique because of the unusual subterranean nature of the lands to be protected. Because the area is located within the old Fort Stanton military reservation (withdrawal revoked in 1956) the BLM already has some protections in place. It lies within both the Fort Stanton Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and the 24,000 acre Fort Stanton Recreation Area. The current uses of the area which are largely recreational are compatible with the protections envisioned by the legislation.
At the same time, the world class nature of this discovery demands further protections as noted in S. 1170. We would like to work with the Committee to further clarify those protections and the area to be covered. Inclusion of surface as well as subsurface is important. While in many places the cave system is 60 to 100 feet below the ground, in other places tree roots have been observed suggesting a close proximity to the surface. Some surface activities could affect the cave environment if safeguards are not in place. We believe it is important to draw some line around the area. Initial estimates are that an area of about 10,000 acres would likely cover the entire cave system which includes other significant caves. The establishment of this NCA would be consistent with the current uses of the area.
We want to express our deep appreciation to Senators Domenici and Bingaman for introducing this legislation to protect the important cave resources of the Fort Stanton and Snowy River Cave system. These are important resources-- scientifically and educationally. We look forward to working cooperatively both with Congress and our many partners to see this vision become a reality.
Statement of Lawrence E. Benna
Deputy Director, Operations
Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior
Hearing of the Senate Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
H.R. 1101, An Act to revoke a Public Land Order with respect to certain lands
erroneously included in the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, California
July 20, 2005
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today in support of H.R. 1101, which will revoke a portion of Public Land Order 3442, dated August 21, 1964. This Public Land Order withdrew approximately 16,600 acres of public domain lands along the Colorado River in California and Arizona for the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The withdrawal erroneously included a small area of approximately 140 acres in Imperial County at the southern boundary of the California portion of the Refuge. A similar bill in the 108th Congress, H.R. 417, was passed by the House and by the Senate with an amendment, but was not enacted.
Prior to 1964, this property fell under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1962, the BLM issued a permit for a public recreation concession on 18 acres of the lands now in question. The concession is known as "Walter's Camp," and consists of a recreational vehicle park, a small marina, and a store, and the BLM estimates that Walter's Camp receives 11,000 visitors per year. Because neither the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) nor the BLM recognized the mistake in legal descriptions on the ground, the BLM continued to renew the original permit and the recreational concession use has continued, unbroken, to the present time. The current concession contract was issued by the BLM in 1980, under the provisions of Section 10 of the Reclamation Project Act of 1939 for a period of 20 years. Four extensions to the current contract have since been issued.
The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended, (Act) requires that all uses of refuge lands be compatible with the purpose for which the refuge was established. Section 4(a) of the Act and section 204(j) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act both prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from revoking withdrawals of land within NWRs. For this reason, Congressional action is required to remove these lands from the Refuge System.
Since the inclusion of these lands in Public Land Order 3442 was a mistake, due to the prior existence of the concession, we believe the most equitable solution is removal of the lands from the refuge. There are no listed species inhabiting the 140 acres and the area in question is, at best, marginal wildlife habitat. Removal of the 140 acres of land from the refuge would free-up the area necessary for the continuation of the recreational concession, while still affording more than adequate protection for the nearest significant wildlife habitat feature, Three Fingers Lake.
We believe that withdrawal of these lands will benefit all parties involved — the concessionaire, the Service, the BLM and, ultimately, the public. For this reason, we support the bill and urge prompt action on enactment of H.R. 110l.
Lawrence E. Benna
Deputy Director, Operations
Bureau of Land Management
Senate Energy & Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Hearing on S.1131, the “Idaho Land Enhancement Act”
July 20, 2005
Thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S.1131, the “Idaho Land Enhancement Act.” This legislation authorizes the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to move forward with an exchange that has been developed in collaboration with the State of Idaho and the City of Boise. The exchange was initiated by the City of Boise to preserve open space in the Boise Foothills. Under S.1131, conveyance of State-owned lands in the Boise foothills into Federal ownership will secure open space for residents of Boise and Ada County, and, in exchange, conveyance of Federal timbered lands to the State of Idaho will provide the State with more long-term revenue than could be derived from its lands in the Boise foothills. The exchange authorized by S.1131 is a milestone in a 30-year effort of conservation in the Boise Foothills. The Department supports enactment of S.1131.
A proposed multi-party exchange initiated by the City of Boise involving lands managed by the BLM, the USFS, and the State of Idaho (no privately-owned lands are involved) has been proceeding administratively. In accordance with the administrative process for land exchanges, the BLM and USFS completed a Feasibility Analysis, and, on April 26, 2005, the BLM, USFS, State of Idaho, and City of Boise signed an Agreement to Initiate for the Boise Foothills—Northern Idaho Land Exchange (Agreement). As the Forest Service does not have the authority to participate in a three party exchange absent Congressional authorization, S. 1131 is needed to effectuate the exchange Agreement.
The legislation authorizes the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to proceed with the land exchanges described in the Agreement. As authorized by S.1131, under the Agreement, the BLM is to convey approximately 605 acres of public land to the State of Idaho; the USFS is to convey approximately 7,220 acres of National Forest System land in the Idaho Panhandle and Clearwater National Forests to the State of Idaho; and the State of Idaho is to convey approximately 11,085 acres to the United States (6,930 acres to be managed by the BLM and 4,155 acres to be managed by the USFS).
Authorization of Exchange
Section 3 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretaries) to complete the land exchanges described in the Agreement. The BLM is to convey four parcels which total approximately 605 acres, including Boise Peak (86 acres), Mt. Coeur d’Alene (120 acres), Skeel Gulch (80 acres), and Rock Creek (319 acres). Although forested, none of the BLM lands to be conveyed in this exchange contain old growth or officially designated old growth replacement stands. There is no current mining or mineral activity on the BLM lands, except in the Rock Creek parcel, where much of the area contains old mining prospects. There are no other permitted uses.
Although the 605 acres of public land to be conveyed out of Federal ownership by the BLM are not identified for disposal, we believe the exchange is in the public interest because this exchange will result in a net gain of 3,156 acres of high value resource lands within designated retention areas, providing management protection for cultural resources and a variety of sensitive wildlife species. Acquisition of the State lands in the Boise foothills will help the BLM meet its management objectives to protect and enhance watershed resources, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, and scenic values.
The legislation authorizes the parties to enter into additional agreements that specify other terms and conditions necessary to complete the land exchange:
• provide legal descriptions of the Federal land and the State land to be exchanged;
• identify all reserved and outstanding interests in the Federal land and State land; and
• stipulate any cash equalization payments required.
The conveyances are subject to valid and existing rights. As part of the Agreement, the BLM, USFS, and State of Idaho reviewed, examined, and disclosed all valid existing rights on their respective lands.
S.1131 also requires the Federal land and State land to be exchanged under the bill to be of equal value; and, if the values are not equal, the bill authorizes the equalization of value by cash payment to the United States or to the State of Idaho, as appropriate, in accordance with section 206(b) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). The value of the Federal and State lands is to be determined in accordance with the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, and the appraisals must be approved by the Secretaries. Any cash equalization payment received by the United States is to be used by the Secretary of Agriculture for the acquisition of land to add to the National Forest System in the state of Idaho.
The City of Boise passed a bond levy to support acquisition of properties on the Boise Front to preserve its natural character. The City will pay the costs associated with the conveyances outlined in the Agreement and this Act, including the costs of any field inspections, environmental analyses, appraisals, title examinations, and deed and patent preparations. The BLM will review the exchange package in its regular course of business (i.e., at no additional cost to the City of Boise).
Management of Federal Land
Section 4 transfers administrative jurisdiction of approximately 2,111 acres of public land in Shoshone County, Idaho, currently managed by the BLM, to the USFS, to be managed in accordance with the laws and regulations applicable to the National Forest System. This area—called Grandmother Mountain—is completely surrounded by National Forest System lands that previously, as part of the Arkansas-Idaho Land Exchange Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-584), had been transferred from BLM management into the National Forest System. Consolidation of administrative jurisdiction in this area will improve the Federal government’s management of the land and resources. Also, these 2,111 acres are in a Wilderness Study Area, and the legislation preserves Congress’ options to act on this WSA by providing that after transfer to the USFS, this area will be managed in a manner that preserves the suitability of the land for designation as wilderness until Congress determines otherwise.
In addition, Section 4 requires the Secretary of the Interior to manage the land conveyed by the State of Idaho as acquired land (as distinct from public domain) under FLPMA and other applicable laws. Under FLPMA, the BLM manages both public domain and acquired lands under the same management structure and plans. The direction in S.1131 that the lands conveyed by the State be managed as acquired lands affects only the ability to locate mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872 (which applies exclusively to public domain lands); exploration for and mining of locatable minerals on acquired lands is through a permitting process rather than by claim.
Finally, concerning land use planning, Section 4 provides that BLM need not do an amendment or revision to its resource management plans (RMP) upon acquisition of lands from the State of Idaho. The acquired lands are to be managed under the existing RMP applicable to that area, until the land use plans are updated in the regular planning process. The BLM’s Coeur d’Alene Field Office is currently working on a Resource Management Plan that will replace the current land use plan. The Field Office held a scoping meeting earlier this year on the proposed changes to the RMP, and public comments have been generally favorable. The Field Office expects to issue a Draft plan revision by the end of calendar year 2005, and hopes to issue a Final RMP by December of 2006.
Section 5 of the bill contains several miscellaneous provisions. This Section:
• authorizes the Secretaries and the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners to modify the land descriptions in the Agreement to correct errors; make minor adjustments to the parcels based on a survey or other means; or reconfigure the parcels to facilitate the land exchange;
• provides that the written legal description shall prevail if there is a discrepancy between a map, acreage estimate, and written legal description of the Federal land or State land;
• provides that, subject to valid existing rights, any public land orders withdrawing any of the Federal land from appropriation or disposal under the public land laws are revoked to the extent necessary to permit disposal of the Federal land. (No withdrawals are on the BLM land);
• provides that subject to valid existing rights, pending completion of the land exchange, the Federal land to be conveyed under this Act is withdrawn from all forms of location, entry, and patent under the mining and public land laws; and disposition under the mineral leasing laws and the Geothermal Steam Act of 1970.
As part of the administrative process detailed in the Agreement, the BLM had previously segregated the Federal lands proposed for exchange in the Agreement.
Section 5(e) of S.1131 expresses the Congressional finding that the Forest Service and the BLM have conducted adequate analyses and reviews of the environmental impacts of the exchange authorized under this Act, and stipulates that no further administrative or environmental analyses or examination is required to carry out any activities authorized under this Act. As part of the Agreement, the BLM, Forest Service, and the City of Boise agreed to be jointly responsible for completing environmental and cultural review work on the Federal lands being transferred to the State of Idaho. The City of Boise is responsible for paying for contract environmental and cultural review work approved by all parties to the Agreement. The BLM, Forest Service, Idaho Department of Lands, and the City of Boise will be jointly responsible for completing mineral reports, to be paid for by the City of Boise.
Under the Agreement, initial NEPA scoping was done. The BLM and Forest Service have completed the following resource assessments: cultural/historic, Threatened and Endangered Species, biological, botanical, noxious weeds, timber, wetlands, floodplains, water resources, recreation, wilderness, visual, mineral and mineral potential. Pursuant to the Congressional Finding in Section 5(e), the BLM and Forest Service would carry out no further administrative or environmental analysis in completing the exchange delineated in the bill. We will work with the Committee so that there is a common understanding of the additional administrative or environmental review that would otherwise be undertaken by the agencies.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on S.1131. I would be glad to answer any questions.
Lawrence E. Benna
Deputy Director, Operations
Bureau of Land Management
Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Hearing on S. 703, Conveyance of Certain Bureau of Land Management Land
in the State of Nevada to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway
July 20, 2005
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to testify on S. 703, a bill that would convey by direct sale approximately 113 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Clark County, Nevada to the Nevada Speedway, LLC. The lands would be used as a parking lot to alleviate parking congestion at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and are located directly adjacent to land currently owned by Nevada Speedway, LLC. The Administration does not object to the proposed conveyance in S. 703 but cannot support the bill’s distribution of revenues from the sale of these public lands. We would also like an opportunity to work with the sponsor of the bill and the Committee to ensure that the conveyance results in the best possible return for the public and to resolve some other concerns with the bill.
The land proposed for sale is within the southwest part of a designated community sand and gravel pit area. However, there are no ongoing sand and gravel operations on the lands proposed to be conveyed. No other leasing, commodity use, or production activities occur on the lands. Recreation use in the area is also limited.
S. 703 requires the Secretary to complete an appraisal of the land not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of the bill. Nevada Speedway, LLC has 30 days from the completion of the appraisal to submit an offer to the Secretary to acquire the lands at the appraised value. The Secretary then has 30 days to complete the conveyance. The Act directs the BLM to convey the lands to Nevada Speedway, LLC notwithstanding land use planning and other requirements provided for in sections 202 and 203 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and withdraws the lands from all forms of entry. All costs associated with the appraisal and conveyance of the lands are to be paid by Nevada Speedway, LLC. The proceeds from the sale of the lands are to be distributed in accordance with section 4(e)(1) of the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA), which provides for the distribution of 5 percent of the proceeds to the State of Nevada general education program, 10 percent to Southern Nevada Water Authority, and 85 percent to the special account for the various resource purposes described in SNPLMA.
While the BLM supports the conveyance of these lands to Nevada Speedway, LLC, we would like to work with Committee to resolve some concerns with the legislation. First, the lands identified for conveyance are outside the SNPLMA disposal boundary and they are not identified for disposal in the BLM Las Vegas Resource Management Plan. The BLM, as a matter of policy and practice, and in accordance with FLPMA, uses its land use planning process to identify public lands suitable for disposal. Based on previous sales in Clark County, Nevada, it is likely that the lands identified for conveyance in
S. 703 would be sold at a much higher price than their appraised value if the sale was completed through a competitive procedure. Therefore, to ensure a fair return to the public, the Department supports the sale of these lands via a competitive bidding process, as defined in Section 203 of FLPMA, rather than a direct sale to Nevada Speedway, LLC.
Second, because the lands proposed for conveyance fall outside of the SNPLMA disposal boundary, the Administration recommends that the proceeds of the sale be directed to the U.S. Treasury.
Finally, the Department would like to work with the Committee on some additional technical modifications to S. 703, including ensuring that the subsurface estate is conveyed along with the surface estate to prevent any split-estate issues.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this bill. We look forward to working with the Committee to resolve the issues discussed above. I will be happy to answer any questions.
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS REGARDING S. 1238, A BILL TO AMEND THE PUBLIC LAND CORPS ACT OF 1993 TO PROVIDE FOR THE CONDUCT OF PROJECTS THAT PROTECT FORESTS AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES
JULY 20, 2005
Thank you for the opportunity to present for the record the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1238, a bill to amend the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993 to provide for the conduct of projects that protect forests and for other purposes.
The National Park Service (NPS) has successfully implemented the Public Land Corps Act of 1993, to expand our youth service opportunities to carry out needed repairs and restoration projects within the National Park System. With the passage of the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program in 1996 (P.L. 104-134; U.S.C 460l-6a), funding was available to implement the NPS Public Land Corps program in 1997.
As required in the recreation fee demonstration legislation and in the recently passed Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (P.L. 108-447), funds acquired through the recreation fee program may be used only for specific purposes. For that reason, NPS Public Land Corps projects must focus on repair, maintenance and facility enhancement related directly to visitor enjoyment, education, access, services and health and safety or on habitat restoration related directly to wildlife dependent recreation.
The NPS regards the Public Lands Corps Program as an important and successful example of civic engagement and conservation. The program is unique because nonprofit agencies such as the Student Conservation Association and the National Association for Service and Conservation Corps serve as the primary partners in administering the Public Land Corps program. In addition, any nonprofit youth organization may participate such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, local high schools and job training youth organizations. Each year over 300 parks apply for work grants of up to $25,000. The nonprofit youth organizations assist the NPS in its efforts to attract diverse audiences to the parks by recruiting youth 16 to 25 years of age from all socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Since 1997, the Public Land Corps has funded more than 2,000 work projects with more than 100 parks participating on an annual basis.
S. 1238 would allow the National Park Service to expand the current work it accomplishes with the Public Land Corps by creating an additional type of project to promote healthy forests and authorize appropriations for these projects. The legislation would not adversely affect the National Park Service’s ability to continue its practice of funding other Public Land Corps projects through the use of proceeds from the recreation fee program. In addition, we would still be able to prioritize projects according to the needs of the parks. Therefore, the Department of the Interior has no objection to this legislation. However, funding for projects authorized by this legislation would be subject to current and future budgetary constraints and the Administration's priority-setting process.
Mr. Joel HoltropDeputy Chief of the National Forest SystemForest Service, Department of Agriculture
DEPUTY CHIEF, NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM
UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
UNITED STATES SENATE
July 20, 2005
S. 997 - Montana Cemetery Act of 2005,
S. 1131 - Idaho Land Enhancement Act of 2005,
S. 1238 - Public Lands Corps Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2005
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to present the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on S. 997, the Montana Cemetery Act of 2005; S. 1131, the Idaho Land Enhancement Act of 2005; and S. 1238, the Public Lands Corps Healthy Forest Restoration Act.
S. 997 - Montana Cemetery Act of 2005
This legislation directs the Secretary to convey for no consideration, all right, title, and interest in 10 acres of land within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests to Jefferson County, Montana to be used for cemetery purposes. The Department is supportive of S. 997, but would recommend that the Committee add provisions to the legislation that will protect historic interests and provide consideration to the Federal government for the conveyance.
The parcel to be conveyed to Jefferson County is currently being used for cemetery purposes but a special use authorization has never been issued for this purpose. The
10-acre conveyance will provide a sufficient amount of land to accommodate all known grave sites and any additional sites that may be outside of the concentration of known sites. In addition the conveyance is of adequate size to include the cemetery parking lot so that it will be located on private property.
The parcel to be conveyed is a National Register eligible property that contributes to the significance of the Elkhorn town site and the Elkhorn historic mining district. We would like to work with the committee and through the NEPA process to ensure that the land conveyed will be managed with due consideration for the historic and cultural values associated with the cemetery.
Also, we are concerned about conveying public land to other jurisdictions without any form of consideration. The Department does not object to making the Federal land available for use as a cemetery, but requests that the conveyance of the public land estate include consideration for the market value of the property and for the administrative costs associated with the conveyance.
S. 1131 – Idaho Land Enhancement Act
The Idaho Land Enhancement Act would authorize the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to enter into a collaborative land exchange with the State of Idaho and the City of Boise, Idaho. The exchange was initiated by the City of Boise to preserve open space in the Boise foothills. The exchange culminates a long-term effort by all parties to preserve the character of the Boise foothills, to increase long term financial return to the Idaho State Endowment Fund and to improve land management through consolidation of land ownership on federal and state lands. The Department supports enactment of S. 1131. We have a few recommendations that we would like the committee to consider.
The Boise metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. The Boise foothills region provides a scenic backdrop as well as multiple opportunities for outdoor recreation activities by area residents. The State of Idaho manages approximately 6,000 acres of State Endowment lands within the Foothills that have significant residential development potential. These lands have a State Constitutional mandate to maximize revenue to benefit State public schools. These lands currently yield very little revenue from livestock grazing or from any other source thus there are incentives to convey the land out of public ownership.
To reduce the potential of scenic and recreational lands that are highly-valued by the City of Boise from being developed, S. 1131 proposes to convey lands in the foothills from the State of Idaho to the BLM and the Forest Service. To equalize the value of the exchange, federal timbered lands under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service would be conveyed to the State of Idaho. The administrative costs associated with the conveyance of the Federal land and State land would be paid by the City of Boise.
The proposed land exchange addresses threats of unmanaged recreational use, habitat fragmentation, and fire and fuels reduction in both Northern and Southern Idaho. This proposal has been proceeding through the administrative process for land exchanges. Upon determination that the exchange was feasible and worthy of continued study, on April 26, 2005, the City of Boise, Idaho Department of Lands, Forest Service and the BLM signed an agreement to initiate an exchange.
As part of the agreement, BLM, the Forest Service and Boise City agreed to be jointly responsible for completing environmental and cultural review work on Federal lands being transferred to the State of Idaho. Boise City is to pay for contract environmental and cultural review work approved by all parties to the agreement. BLM, the Forest Service, Idaho Department of Lands, and Boise City will be jointly responsible for completing mineral potential reports, also to be paid for by the City of Boise.
Under the agreement, initial NEPA scoping was done. BLM and the Forest Service have completed the following resource assessments: cultural/historic, Threatened and Endangered Species, biological, botanical, noxious weeds, timber, wetlands, floodplains, water resources, recreation, wilderness, visual, socio-economic and environmental justice, mineral and mineral potential. Pursuant to the Congressional Finding in Sec. 5(e), the Forest Service would carry out no further administrative or environmental analysis in completing the exchange as delineated in the bill. We will work with the Committee so that there is a common understanding of the additional administrative or environmental review that would otherwise be undertaken by the agency.
This agreement provides the framework for S. 1131. Under the proposed exchange, approximately 7,220 acres of National Forest System land within the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and the Clearwater National Forest would be conveyed to the State of Idaho. Approximately 11,085 acres of land under the jurisdiction of the Idaho Department of Lands would be conveyed to the Bureau of Land Management (7,000 acres) and to the U.S. Forest Service (4,085 acres). In addition 2,111 acres in the Grandmother Mountain area currently under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management in Shoshone County, Idaho would be transferred to the Secretary of Agriculture to be administered by the Forest Service on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
Management of National Forest System lands within the Idaho Panhandle, Boise, Wallowa-Whitman and Clearwater National Forests would be improved with the consolidation of land ownership patterns achieved by the Act. Efficiencies will be realized by reducing the number of joint-use roads and easements, and decreasing costs associated with boundary management. Consolidation of National Forest ownership within the Elk Creek watershed will prevent habitat fragmentation and increase opportunities for public recreation in a popular area of the Clearwater National Forest. Likewise, the State of Idaho and the BLM will benefit from land ownership consolidation and increase ability to achieve important management objectives.
The 2,111 acre Grandmother Mountain tract is in an area where other land under BLM jurisdiction was previously transferred to the Forest Service. Through the Arkansas-Idaho Land Exchange Act of 1992 approximately 10,000 acres of land administered by the BLM were conveyed to the Forest Service. The 2,111 acre remaining BLM tract is identified as a Wilderness Study Area. The legislation provides that land transferred to the Forest Service that was previously designated as a Wilderness Study Area shall be managed in a manner that preserves the suitability of the land for designation as wilderness until Congress determines otherwise.
We would like to work with the committee to implement the following recommendations concerning this bill. The intent of Sec. 3 (d) is to require that the exchange be of equal value between state and federal lands, however, the cash equalization provision is the only method described to facilitate this result. Since none of the parties wish to incur a large cash obligation, we recommend adding a provision allowing for the deletion of parcels as an alternative method of equalizing values.
There are several of the State of Idaho parcels that would be acquired by the Forest Service that are located adjacent to but outside of the existing National Forest boundaries. We recommend amending Sec. 4(e) to modify the boundaries on all four of the affected National Forest to accommodate these parcels.
S. 1238 – Public Lands Corps Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2005
The Department supports S.1238. However, the Department would like to work with the committee and bill sponsors to ensure specific conservation corps would be covered under S. 1238 since we work with several programs that service disadvantaged youths.
S.1238 would amend the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior, in carrying out priority projects in a specific area, to give preference, to the maximum extent practicable, to qualified youth or conservation corps located in that specific area that have a substantial portion of members who are economically, physically, or educationally disadvantaged. Priority projects are those that will: (1) reduce wildfire risk to communities, municipal water supplies, or other at risk Federal land; (2) protect a watershed or address a threat to forest and rangeland health, including catastrophic wildfire; (3) address the impact of insect or disease infestations or other damaging agents on forest and rangeland health; (4) protect, restore, or enhance forest ecosystem components to promote recovery of threatened and endangered species, to improve biological diversity, or to enhance productivity and carbon sequestration.
It is important to recognize that implementation of some priority projects requires a certain amount of maturity, decision-making capability, perspective and attention to safety. It is both appropriate and necessary to provide the Secretaries the discretion in determining the types of priority projects suitable for the target corps.
In many respects, the goals of S. 1238 are consistent with existing authorities that the Department has supported, including the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) [P.L.108-208], the original Public Land Corps Act of 1993, P. L. 103-82 Title II, and the Youth Conservation Corps Act of 1970, P. L. 91-378.
However, the Administration does have concerns about the Committee’s expectation regarding the authorization of specific appropriations contained in the bill given current and future budgetary constraints.
This concludes my statement, I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Keith JohnsonControllerState of Idaho
Testimony of Keith L. Johnson, Idaho State Controller
U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Public Lands and Forests
Energy Committee Hearing Room SD-366
July 20, 2005
As Idaho’s State Controller, I am one of five members of the State Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) which is comprised of five of our state’s elected officials. This includes the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and myself, the State Controller. The State Land Board, as trustee, is charged under the Idaho Constitution with the management of state endowment lands and funds to maximize the long-term financial return to certain beneficiaries within the state, most notably the public schools in Idaho.
I come before you today to endorse and request your support for The Idaho Lands Enhancement Act (S. 1131) because of its benefits to citizens, schools and communities as well as the federal and state agencies involved. This collaborative piece of legislation directs the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to exchange lands that are currently owned and managed by the federal government with lands owned and managed by the State of Idaho from the Boise Foothills to North Idaho. While my testimony today is my own and is not intended to be a representation of the views of the Land Board as a whole, the board has been involved in this matter from its inception and has voted unanimously to support it.
Passage of this legislation will grant the regulatory authority for this agreement which will ultimately provide the State of Idaho with more timberland, meaning greater revenue to Idaho’s public schools. The people of Idaho, particularly those living in the Boise Valley, will get more open space, a precious commodity in one of this nation’s fastest growing communities. These lands will be protected from development and other limiting uses forever. Additionally, federal and state agencies will increase efficiency in managing their lands for fire, invasive species, and recreation with their land holdings consolidated, rather than scattered.
The state-owned parcels in the Boise Foothills subject to this exchange are endowment lands that are required under the state constitution to be managed for the maximum benefit of the beneficiaries of the endowment such as public schools. Historically, these lands have provided revenue to the school endowment by leasing the ground to cattle and sheep ranchers for grazing. However, the opportunities for maximum return from this practice are becoming more limited due to the economics of ranching in a more urbanized location versus other competing uses for these lands. The State cannot legally simply convey these parcels to the City of Boise nor can we manage them for non-monetary returns such as recreational or aesthetic purposes. Because of the constitutionally mandated fiduciary duty we have as a board to maximize financial return, we needed a way to protect the open space desires of the local community without negatively impacting the financial condition of the beneficiaries of the endowments. This proposed land exchange is the means to make that possible.
The land board currently manages approximately 750,000 acres of commercial timberland in Idaho. These endowment lands are the principal source of revenue to the beneficiaries, bringing in over $55,000,000 annually, which benefits the public school children in Idaho. Passage of S.1131 will enhance our ability to provide funding for Idaho’s public schools while providing the desired benefits for the community and other government agencies.
The Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners voted last year in a public meeting to grant conceptual approval of this exchange. Final approval is pending the successful passage of this legislation.
All told, the exchange involves approximately 20,000 acres in 7 Idaho counties. A tremendous amount of effort has gone into this exchange. All parcels in the exchange have been evaluated with regard to legal boundaries, encumbrances, legal access, mineral potential, hazardous materials, threatened and endangered plant and animal habitat, wetlands, cultural resources and timber types and volume to ensure equal economic value between the state and federal holdings.
From the very beginning as the concept of this exchange was being developed, a primary goal was to identify a land exchange package that was absent of environmental resource concerns. Once the conceptual exchange lands were agreed to by the agencies, both literature reviews and on the ground surveys were conducted by professional staff. The analysis was rigorous and included a mix of private independent contractors hired by the City of Boise and professional staff from Idaho Department of Lands and the Clearwater National Forest where the bulk of the federal parcels are located.
After completing the evaluation of the federal parcels to be conveyed to the state, a series of public forums were conducted to solicit public comment. First, meetings were held with County Commissioners to gauge their support. Next, public participation was solicited through a series of open house forums.
Notifications were mailed to federal agency lists throughout the state. Senator Larry Craig, Congressman Butch Otter, and Governor Dirk Kempthorne held a joint news conference to advertise the opportunity to comment on the exchange. A website was developed by the city of Boise to provide information including copies of the proposed legislation, as well as the opportunity to comment. Public open house meetings were held in the Idaho communities of Kellogg, St. Maries, Moscow and Boise.
Tribal governments were also engaged to provide comment. Their principal concern was the ability to continue to hunt and fish on the federal parcels that would be conveyed to the state. The Idaho Department of Lands will honor this request.
While no public land use change is without some level of opposition, this exchange proposal enjoys overwhelming support in Idaho. The exchange encourages both common sense and improved economics. It makes sense for the State to increase revenues to the endowment while ensuring open space access to the citizens of its largest community. It makes sense and saves money to have publicly managed lands connected or contiguous for ecosystem-wide management. It makes sense to consolidate scattered parcels to streamline on the ground management activities. It makes sense for the State of Idaho and the federal government to have better access to prevent and battle invasive species and wildland fire. It makes sense to provide more recreational opportunities and access to our public lands for our citizens.
It is indeed rare to find the level of consensus demonstrated in support of this land exchange. From the environmental community to public officials to land managers, this is viewed as a win-win endeavor. The concept for this land exchange has been open, transparent, and has wide support throughout the state. This exchange is an example of how local, state, and federal partners can come together to collaboratively develop an exchange in which the public and the land are the ultimate beneficiaries. Consequently, I strongly urge your support in the passage of this legislation.
Ms. Penelope BostonDirector, Cave and Karst Studies ProgramNew Mexico Tech
Testimony in Support of S. 1170, to Establish the Fort Stanton-Snowy River National Cave Conservation Area – July 20, 2005
Penelope J. Boston, PhD
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, NM
First Science Assessment Trip – July 2003
Why Care About Caves and Karst Terrain?
Human beings live primarily on Earth’s surface and are intimately familiar with much of the biology, geology, and other natural features that make up what we think of as our planet. But, beneath our feet in many parts of the world is an entirely unseen realm of great beauty, fragile biology, exquisite minerals, and a window inside the very skin of Earth. This realm is composed of Earth’s many caves, places that differ so much from the overlying surface environment that people often feel that they might as well be on another planet.
For those whose only experience of caves is an occasional childhood trip to a developed tourist cavern, the enormous diversity of Earth’s subsurface comes as a surprise. Caves can be tiny or immense and labyrinthine. They can be filled with water, filled with air or other gases, or even have major rivers and sinking streams running through them. Although most caves are formed in soluble rocks like limestone and dolomite, every major rock type can be acted on by cave-forming geological and hydrological processes. Some can be entered by natural openings while others are accidentally discovered during construction or road-building activities. There are jewel-like caverns in marble in California, sinkholes and caverns thickly dotting the rolling green landscape of the Cumberland Plateau and beyond, dramatic vertical systems in some of our jagged dolomite mountain ranges, tubes formed from molten lava on the flanks of volcanoes in New Mexico and the Pacific Northwest, rock shelters eroded into sandstone sea cliffs along many of our coasts, granite fissure caves in the New England states and many more varieties.
The term “karst” is a word that refers to landforms created by dissolving soluble rocks. Caves are one of the most characteristic features that occur typically in karst terrains. Besides caves, karst is frequently characterized by sinkholes that are potential geohazards to people and their structures but also can be water resources for wildlife. Aquifers that occur in karst, i.e., in highly fractured limestone or dolomite rock, are very different from ordinary sand aquifers. In the latter, water percolating from above takes time to move through the pores of the aquifer down to the water table. This relatively slow process through very small rock pores enables extensive filtration of the water to occur, thus helping to purify the water. In the case of karst aquifers, the water has a very rapid path through the many fractures in this type of rock, thus, if a pollutant enters a karst system at the surface, it practically has a super highway trip down to the water table. Little filtration can occur, thus making karst aquifers very susceptible to pollution. Karst terrain and caves impose extra and highly specialized management burdens on our land management agencies charged with their protection.
Despite the wonders of the underground world, caves and karst landforms are part of perhaps the least protected of all of our wilderness treasures. Because we don’t normally see them, out of sight is indeed out of mind. They have perennially been used as trash pits for all types of waste including even hazardous chemicals spilled or even purposely introduced toxic substances. The introduction of such foreign material into a delicately balanced, low organic nutrient system like a cave is tremendously detrimental to both the geology and especially the living organisms from microbes to delicate transparent cave fish and salamanders that live within them. Caves are regularly vandalized, their decorations removed for illicit sale or simply thoughtlessly smashed, the precious archaeological and paleontological remains in many caves are looted or destroyed. With the advent of the Internet and GPS technology, cave locations kept secret for decades have now become public knowledge attracting additional vandalism and looting.
Over the past few decades, the recreational caving community, cave scientists (speleologists), and conservationists have made major gains in raising the awareness of the public about the fragile nature of cave systems and the precious geological and biological resources that are housed within them. Many of these individuals, local caving groups (known as “grottoes”), and major organizations like the National Speleological Society, the American Cave Conservation Association, Karst Waters Institute, and others have worked closely with BLM, US Forest Service, and NPS personnel to help in the management, scientific study, and conservation of the Underground. Indeed, caver volunteer hours are being documented in some areas and amount to literally tens of thousands of person-hours, often of highly skilled technically and scientifically trained people. The caves of the United States have benefited enormously from this major volunteer effort. However, volunteer efforts alone can go only so far. We must provide our land management agencies like the BLM with the tools they need to enforce protection of our underground wilderness.
Why is Snowy River Special?
The amazing sparkling calcite “frozen river” of Snowy River in Ft. Stanton Cave, NM is unique amongst known mineral formations of known caves in the world. This brilliantly white crystalline formation has been traced for over 2 miles in entirely pristine passage in otherwise well-known Ft. Stanton Cave. This cave has been visited since before historical times by indigenous peoples, and used extensively since colonization by European settlers. A few decades ago, Ft. Stanton was considered virtually a “trash cave” because of extensive vandalism and other abuse of its then-known passages. The dedicated efforts of a handful of volunteers and BLM personnel over the past number of years has restored this cave to its rightful place as a major cave resource managed by the Roswell BLM office under the State of New Mexico regional BLM. Cave explorers have now presented us with a splendid feature of unparalleled magnificence, a river of glittering crystals. Thus, the efforts to save a thoughtlessly trashed cave have rewarded us many fold.
Besides the scenic and scientific importance of the Snowy River formation itself, this passage contains other scientific finds of significance. My own research concerns the microorganisms that inhabit caves and contribute to the breakdown of bedrock and the precipitation of many biogenic minerals. Such organisms, though microscopically tiny, can act as major geological agents over time. Additionally, they are primarily novel species unknown to science. Each cave that we are studying yields up new sets of hundreds to thousands of new organisms. Such untapped biological wealth is ripe for exploration seeking sources of new pharmaceuticals, industrial agents like novel enzymes that can act in extreme chemical conditions, and insight into the microbial role in the very production of economically significant low-temperature ores including uranium, gold, copper, manganese, and many other minerals. As an example, Actinomycete and Streptomycete organisms are two of the major groups that produce the antibiotics upon which so much of modern medicine depends. These organisms abound in these environments and Snowy River is no exception. Black coatings full of manganese-oxidizing bacteria occur on much of the wall rock in the Snowy River Passage. Actinomycete colonies sparkle as shiny white and yellow dots on many of the walls throughout the cave.
Other scientists are interested in many other facets of Snowy River. Plans are afoot to date the age of the formation and to study the hydrological conditions that led to its occurrence. Geochemistry and isotopic data from both the sparkling calcite and other materials in the cave are of great interest. The climate history over the past few thousand years may be hidden in the chemistry and mineralogy of the River and its surroundings.
Today is the 36th anniversary of our first human landing on the moon by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. That frontier still beckons us, but so too should the unexplored realms here on Earth. The cave frontier offers much promise for science, as a possible provider of biological and geological resources, and places of beauty to feed the human spirit. It is our duty to protect it as best we can.
Beautiful crystalline selenite stars cover passage walls on the way to Snowy River.