JULY 26, 2001

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interiorís views on H.R. 640, a bill to adjust the boundaries of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The Department supports H.R. 640. This legislation will adjust the authorized boundary of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to encompass an important wildlife corridor and provide for the protection of a key watershed. The legislation requires that acquisition of lands within the expansion area be accomplished only through donation, a provision that reflects the high level of cooperation and strong commitment of local communities and governments toward the park.

Furthermore, in light of the President's commitment to reducing the backlog of deferred maintenance needs within the National Park System before incurring additional financial burdens, it is important to note that this legislation authorizes the lands within the boundary adjustment area to be acquired by donation only. Therefore, no public funds will be required for land acquisition. In addition, life cycle operational and maintenance costs are expected to be minimal. The park anticipates providing only minimal facilities such as trails, emphasizing habitat preservation for wildlife movement. Since no development is contemplated within the boundary adjustment area, no line item construction or related operational funding will be required.

Within the 3,697-acre expansion zone, three parcels of land totaling about 2,800 acres are owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, an agency of the California Resources Department that was established in 1981 to complement and assist with the establishment of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The three parcels are the 2,300-acre Las Virgenes Canyon Dedication, the 390-acre Liberty Canyon tract, and the 107-acre Abrams property. These lands are held by the Conservancy on behalf of local governments, principally the governments of Ventura County and Los Angeles County, and are slated to be donated to the National Park Service once they have been included within the authorized boundary of the recreation area. H.R. 640 adjusts the boundary in order to accomplish this purpose.

Acquisition of these lands is important in order to protect critical habitat required for the free movement and migration of wildlife between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills, thereby preventing local extinction of species in the park. Together with existing National Park Service lands, the three parcels form the only remaining wildlife corridor in the region to connect with national forest lands to the north.

In addition, this legislation enables the protection of a significant portion of Upper Las Virgenes Creek, which is part of the Malibu Creek Watershed, the largest freshwater system within the recreation area. The quality and condition of this watershed is of critical concern because it drains into Santa Monica Bay. The beaches of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, surrounding the Bay and running west from the Santa Monica Pier for 45 miles along the Malibu coastline, are principally managed by the Los Angeles Department of Beaches and Harbors and the California State Parks. In all, this complex of beaches supports in excess of 30 million recreation visits annually, which suggests that it is one of the most valuable recreation assets in California.

Within the existing boundary of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, some 70 governmental jurisdictions operate and work together. Unlike many park areas where lands within the authorized boundary are almost entirely in federal ownership, there exists an extremely complex mosaic of publicly and privately owned lands within the recreation area's boundary. The entire city of Malibu, as well as portions of the cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, and Westlake Village are within the current park boundaries. The National Park Service works cooperatively with other governments and private landowners, and shares its resource management knowledge with the local communities. The National Park Service, however, does not regulate land use on private or non-federal parklands within the park.

In addition to the 2,800 acres that are owned by the Conservancy, approximately 900 acres of private and non-federal public lands are located within the expansion zone, including two neighborhoods that are situated within the cities of Agoura Hills and Calabasas. The two neighborhoods comprise roughly 330 acres. The two cities, as well as the homeowner associations representing the neighborhoods concerned, are longtime supporters of the park and this legislation. We understand that letters in support the boundary enlargement have been provided to the subcommittee from each of these governments and associations. Under the classification process used by the park, the neighborhoods are designated as "developed areas," where the National Park Service will not acquire lands.

There are also lands within the expansion zone under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County that are largely undeveloped, or held by the county to support operations such as the Calabasas landfill. The legislation would permit the National Park Service to accept these lands, only by donation, if it were determined that they could further park purposes.

Mr. Chairman, we are pleased to support this proposal. In all, the lands reserved through the efforts of local communities and governments for transfer to the National Park Service may be worth as much as $60 million under current market conditions. The legislation before you today is a testament to the cooperation and commitment of the citizens, local governments, and the park agencies in the Santa Monica Mountains.

That concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or the members of the subcommittee may have.