STATEMENT OF JOHN G. PARSONS, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR, LANDS, RESOURCES, AND PLANNING, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING S. 513 AND H.R. 182, BILLS TO AMEND THE WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS ACT TO DESIGNATE A SEGMENT OF THE EIGHTMILE RIVER IN THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT FOR STUDY FOR POTENTIAL ADDITION TO THE NATIONAL WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
July 17, 2001
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 513 and H.R. 182 as passed by the House. These bills would amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by designating segments of the Eightmile River for study and potential addition to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Although the Department supports enactment of both pieces of legislation, we will not request funding for this study in this or the next fiscal year, so as to focus available time and resources on completing previously authorized studies. As of now, there are 41 authorized studies that are pending, and we only expect to complete a few of those this year. We caution that our support of this legislation authorizing a study does not necessarily mean that the Department will support designation of these segments as additions to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Administration is determined to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog in national parks, but the cost of new parks or other commitments, such as grants for Wild and Scenic Rivers, could divert funds from taking care of current responsibilities. Furthermore, in order to better plan for the future of our National Parks, we believe that any such studies should carefully examine the full life cycle operation and maintenance costs that would result from each alternative considered.
The Eightmile River is located in the lower Connecticut River watershed in south central Connecticut. Fifteen miles of the Eightmile River and its East Branch through the communities of Lyme, East Haddam, and Salem, Connecticut are included on the National Park Service’s Nationwide Rivers Inventory of potential Wild and Scenic River segments. Both segments are included on the inventory for outstanding scenic, geologic, fish and wildlife values. Over eighty percent of the Connecticut River watershed is still forested, including large tracts of unfragmented hardwood forests that are home to a diverse assemblage of plants and animals including bobcats, great horned owls, red foxes, and the cerulean warbler.
Over the course of the past two years, the National Park Service has responded to interest and inquiries from local advocates and town officials regarding a potential Wild and Scenic River study for the Eightmile River. There appears to be strong local support for protecting the river system, as evidenced by the communities’ formation of an inter-municipal watershed committee and the signing of an innovative "Eightmile River Watershed Conservation Compact." This compact, signed by the communities of East Haddam, Lyme and Salem, acknowledges their commitment to protect and enhance water resources, wildlife habitats, and rural landscapes in the watershed.
A study of a river to determine if it meets the criteria for designation of a wild and scenic river is the necessary first step to designating a river or a portion of a river as a unit of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Department recognizes that any study of the Eightmile River should be evaluated in concert with all interested stakeholders at the local level. A study of the river from the confluence with the Connecticut to the headwaters of the mainstem and East Branch has strong local support.
The Eightmile River Watershed Committee has built a substantial foundation for the development of river management strategies that rely on state and local conservation measures to protect the river and its resources. Any National Park Service assistance would be contingent on the availability of funding and National Park Service priorities. The Department will work closely with local communities before any action is taken by the National Park Service on the two segments of the river.
This concludes my prepared remarks, Mr. Chairman. I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members may have regarding this bill.