STATEMENT OF P. DANIEL SMITH, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1944, TO REVISE THE BOUNDARY OF THE BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK AND GUNNISON GORGE NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA IN THE STATE OF COLORADO, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 1944, a bill to revise the boundary of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area in the State of Colorado, and for other purposes.
The Department of the Interior supports S. 1944. The bill authorizes additions to both Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (“Park”), through three separate easement or exchange transactions, and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (“NCA”). The revision of the national park boundary would not contribute to the National Park Service (“NPS”) maintenance backlog because the management and operation of the land added to the boundary would not result in any additional facilities, increased operating costs, or additional staffing. Costs involved with the land transactions are expected to be minimal. One parcel would be an equal value exchange, another would involve the purchase of a conservation easement on 240 acres, estimated to cost approximately $500,000 (although the park currently has approximately $300,000 in a land acquisition account that could be used for this transaction), and the third involves the transfer of 480 acres of isolated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to the NPS and then the exchange of this parcel for a conservation easement on approximately 2,000 acres. The private landowner is expected to donate the difference in value as a result of this last exchange.
S. 1944 amends the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-76). The boundary of the park would be revised to include the addition of not more than 2,725 acres and the National Conservation Area (NCA) would also be revised. These additions are indicated on a new map, which supplements the boundary map referenced in P.L. 106-76.
The bill authorizes the transfer of 480 acres of BLM land to the jurisdiction of NPS. The Secretary is authorized to acquire lands or interests in lands in accordance with P.L. 106-76 (by donation, transfer, purchase with donated or appropriated funds, or exchange) and lands cannot be acquired without the consent of the owner.
S. 1944 also amends P.L. 106-76 to clarify grazing privileges within the park. If land authorized for grazing within the park is exchanged for private land, then any grazing privileges would transfer to the private land that is acquired. Also, the bill clarifies the length of time that grazing may be conducted on park lands by partnerships.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The boundary of the park would be expanded in three transactions. The first, locally referred to as Sanburg II, is located just south of Red Rock Canyon, one of the most scenic hiking opportunities into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The landowner agrees with the NPS that maintaining the rural character adjacent to the Red Rock Canyon trailhead is an important part of the wilderness experience and he would be willing to sell the NPS a conservation easement on 240-acres in order to maintain the rural character of the land, and to prevent future subdivision. The Conservation Fund, a nationally recognized land trust, is assisting with this effort.
The second, the Bramlett exchange, would authorize the exchange of a 200-acre parcel of the Bramlett Ranch located on Grizzly Ridge, which overlooks the North Rim Road and North and South Rim overlooks. Although the landowner has proposed building cabins on the ridge top, he is willing to exchange this 200-acre parcel for land of equal value within the park and adjacent to his ranch headquarters. The equal value exchange would give the landowner land with easier access, and would add the ridgeline parcel to the park, thus protecting the natural landscape in that portion of the park.
The third boundary adjustment, the Allison exchange, is located along the East Portal Road, on the park’s south rim. The landowner would exchange a combination of fee simple ownership and a conservation easement on up to 2,000 acres in return for fee simple ownership of up to 480 acres of the BLM parcel that would be transferred to NPS. The landowner has indicated that he would protect this parcel with a conservation easement should he acquire it. He has also indicated that he would donate any value above and beyond the value represented in the exchange.
The Department believes these acquisitions are important for several reasons. Combined with the land authorized by P.L. 106-76, the present and future land requirements for the park would be met. The present landowners are all willing sellers and in addition to them, this effort enjoys the support of the Montrose County Commissioners, the Montrose Chamber of Commerce, and local and national land trusts involved in the project.
S. 1944 would also amend P.L. 106-76 regarding grazing within the park. P.L. 106-76 allowed for the continuation of grazing on lands transferred to the NPS. Permits held by individuals can be renewed through the lifetime of the individual permittees. However, P.L. 106-76 requires that partnerships and corporations be treated alike regarding the termination of grazing permits. Partnerships and corporations now lose their permits upon the termination of the last remaining individual permit.
S. 1944 would amend P.L. 106-76 to treat partnerships similarly to individual permit holders, allowing permits to be renewed through the lifetime of the partners as of October 21, 1999. Since the two partnerships affected are essentially family run ranching operations, the Department feels that they should be treated consistently with individual permit holders.
S. 1944 would also allow grazing on land acquired in an exchange if the land being given up in the exchange currently has authorized grazing. This appears to be consistent with the intent of Congress when it authorized grazing in Public Law 106-76.
S. 1944 also provides for the expansion of the Gunnison Gorge NCA managed by the BLM. A 5,759-acre parcel of land on the north side of the existing NCA has been acquired from a willing seller through a land exchange. This parcel includes approximately five miles of the Gunnison River and provides important resource values and recreational opportunities. In addition, 1,349 acres of preexisting BLM-managed public lands on the north side of the acquisition would also be added to the NCA. By incorporating these federal lands into the NCA, they will have appropriate protection, attention, and resources devoted to them.
The legislation also makes some minor boundary adjustments to the NCA. In the process of completing surveys of the lands designated as the NCA by P.L. 106-76, the BLM discovered a few inadvertent trespass situations on the NCA land. In order to resolve these issues with the local landowners in a fair and equitable manner, slight boundary modifications need to be made so that exchanges can be effected. Without the benefit of this legislation, the BLM would be forced to take extreme punitive measures which are not in the best interest of the federal government or local landowners who frequently were not aware of the encroachment issues.
Since S. 1944 was introduced the BLM has discovered an additional trespass and we would like the opportunity to work with Senator Campbell and the subcommittee to modify the map before markup. Finally, the BLM recently discovered an error in computing acreage totals on the January 22 map references in the bill and would like to correct those before markup.
That concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or the members of the subcommittee may have.