Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:00 PM

Mr. Larry Benna

Bureau of Land Management

Statement of
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. 

S. 1170
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.

Statement of
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. 

Administrative Action
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.

Miscellaneous Provisions
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.

Statement of
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.


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.