STATEMENT OF DENIS P. GALVIN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, UNITED STATES SENATE, CONCERNING S. 1227, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A STUDY OF THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING THE NIAGARA FALLS NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1227, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study of the suitability and feasibility of establishing the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area in the State of New York. The bill authorizes $300,000 to carry out this study. The Department supports enactment of this bill with one recommended amendment.
Although the Department supports enactment of this piece 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 42 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 this heritage area. The study would be undertaken with the full involvement of representatives of the State of New York, the City of Niagara Falls, other communities along the Niagara River, and interested organizations and citizens in the region.
At the request of Representative John J. LaFalce and Senator Charles E. Schumer, representatives of the National Park Service undertook reconnaissance visits to Niagara Falls this year and met with state and local officials and representatives of interested organizations. These preliminary findings indicate that a national heritage area feasibility study could be justified.
The Niagara River flows for 35 miles between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and includes the rapids, Niagara Falls, and the Niagara River Gorge. Eight parks operated by the State of New York are located along the river and within the gorge. The river forms a boundary between the United States and Canada.
Niagara Falls is an internationally significant natural resource that attracts between 8 to 10 million visitors a year. It is one of the most well-known destination attractions in the United States and Canada. The Niagara River Gorge is an exceptionally scenic corridor, carved by the movement of the falls from its original location near Lewiston, New York (10,000 to 15,000 years ago) to its present location 10 miles upstream at the City of Niagara Falls. Besides its scenic values, the gorge has been cited as a world-class location of fossils from the Upper Ordovician and Silurian periods.
The Niagara River region contains a wide variety of flora and fauna. Recent inventories completed for the Canadian Niagara Escarpment Commission identified 1,623 plant species including unique miniature old growth eastern white cedars. The commission’s fauna inventories also include 50 mammal species, 17 amphibian species, 99 fish species, and 17 species of reptiles. Bird inventories identify 342 species including 19 separate species of gulls. One-day counts of gull populations have reached over 100,000 individuals. In recognition of this critical habitat, the National Audubon Society has designated the Niagara River as a Globally Important Bird Area.
The region is also rich in cultural resources related to the history of the United States and Canada. It has significant associations with Native American habitation and early European contact, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. It was also a major link in the Underground Railroad for African Americans escaping slavery to enter Canada. The existence of ample water made it an early site for hydroelectric power, and it remains an important source to this day.
There is well-known national interest in the resources of the region. Three National Historic Landmarks have been designated along the Niagara River. The Adams Power Transformer House, built in 1895, is the only surviving structure of a hydroelectric facility that has been called, “the birthplace of the modern hydroelectric power station.” The Niagara Reservation, which includes the American Falls, was the first state park in the nation created under eminent domain, and originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Colonial Niagara Historic District, within the communities of Lewiston and Youngstown, was a key portage route linking interior North America and the Atlantic seaboard until the late 1700s. It also contains extant resources associated with Native American occupation and early European contact. Historic Fort Niagara on the shore of Lake Ontario is an important component of the district. Within the City of Niagara Falls and the communities of Lewiston and Youngstown there are 14 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The National Park Service has defined a national heritage area as a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. It is not the role of the National Park Service to manage or regulate a national heritage area, but to assist the variety of local partners and landowners who work together to achieve the common goal of protecting and interpreting important places where people live and work.
Despite the richness of the natural and cultural resources in the area, there is widespread belief that the United States side of the falls has never fully achieved its tremendous potential for visitors and for the local communities. A heritage partnership framework has been advocated as a way for the many important partners in the region to further the contribution of the Niagara Falls region to the United States and to the people of New York. We have found considerable support for this idea. The study would permit us to consider the opportunity further, and determine if a partnership framework is the best way to protect natural and cultural resources in the region.
We would recommend one amendment to the bill to provide maximum flexibility with regard to the study area. Currently, Section 2(2) unnecessarily defines the study area as the segment of the Niagara River in Niagara County, New York that extends from Niagara Falls to the mouth of the Niagara River at Lake Ontario. The National Park Service study process provides for developing a focused study area addressing the full assemblage of resources relating to the potential heritage area themes, and including the strongest range of capable and enthusiastic partners. This approach permits an area to be focused enough to be manageable, but broad enough to include the key partners and resources necessary. We recommend that Section 2(2) be amended to avoid a specific study area boundary at this time to allow us to focus on all resources specifically related to the Niagara Falls theme and area.
Mr. Chairman, the Administration supports this bill with the recommended amendment. It provides an opportunity to investigate the feasibility of establishing a national heritage area associated with one of the nation’s most important and best-known natural resources. We look forward to working in close partnership with the State of New York, the City of Niagara Falls, and the communities and organizations within the Niagara Falls region to explore the possibility of national heritage area designation.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or the members of the committee may have.