STATEMENT BY KATHERINE STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION, CONCERNING S. 1069 AND H.R. 834, TO AMEND THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM ACT TO CLARIFY FEDERAL AUTHORITY RELATING TO LAND ACQUISITION FROM WILLING SELLERS FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE TRAILS IN THE SYSTEM.
March 7, 2002
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department’s views on S. 1069 and H.R. 834, identical bills, both of which would amend the National Trails System Act to clarify federal authority relating to land acquisition from willing sellers for the majority of the trails in the System.
The Department supports S. 1069 and H.R. 834 with four technical amendments to the National Trails System Act included at the end of this testimony. These bills would amend the National Trails System Act to make the act’s land protection authorities more uniform. It would be impossible to estimate funding requirements at this time, as the number of willing sellers is unknown and the cost of the land segments for each trail would vary due to geographic location. The Administration will identify the costs to acquire and maintain the land segments to each trail on a case-by-case basis.
The National Trails System Act was developed by Congress principally to offer Federal assistance and support for protecting the land base of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. When the act was passed in 1968, both the previously existing Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails were established as the two initial components of the National Trails System and 14 more trails were proposed for study as potential additions to the National Trail System. The core authorities of the act addressed how to establish nationally significant trails.
Supporters of some of the subsequent trails, such as the North Country National Scenic Trail, did not feel that their Federal partners would need acquisition authority to complete their proposed trails. In addition, national historic trails being proposed at that time were seen as primarily commemorative with no need for acquisition authority. As a result, amendments were added to the National Trails System Act between 1978 and 1983 to ban the use of Federal funds for any trail corridor outside Federal boundaries for nine of the next trails established. This meant that none of these trails, including both scenic and historic trails, could complete trail authorizations.
Since 1983, most of the trails established under the National Trails System Act have had language similar to the following clause: “No lands or interests therein outside the exterior boundaries of any federally administered area may be acquired by the United States for the Pony Express National Historic Trail except with the consent of the owner thereof.” This “willing seller authority” provides a workable middle ground between the full land acquisition authority used to protect the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails and the complete ban on acquiring lands for the next nine trails added to the system.
S. 1069 and H.R. 834 would create consistent land protection powers, to the degree possible, for most of the component trails of the National Trails System. These bills are supported by a broad coalition of trail organizations across America.
From its beginning, the National Trails System was premised on the establishment, operation, and maintenance of national trails as a collaborative partnership effort. For land protection, specifically, state governments and nonprofit partners are encouraged to protect what they can of the national trails, with the Federal government embarking on land acquisition only as a last resort. Many states assume national trail protection to be considered a Federal effort. Further, trail nonprofit partners have been encouraged to develop land trusts to acquire critical lands, but there has been limited success.
For example, in Wisconsin, an arrangement was set up for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail under which the State of Wisconsin took the lead in acquiring trail lands, with support from the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation and coordination by the National Park Service. However, this process has been cumbersome and slow while land values have escalated quickly near urban areas. Along historic trails, the major means of protecting the trail corridor has been through a voluntary certification process. These five-year renewable agreements between the Federal trail agency and the landowner have enabled trail sites and segments to remain in private ownership and use with some degree of public access. Such arrangements tend to be short term in nature and offer no long-term protection for significant sites.
No national trails other than the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails have land protection plans or pre-acquisition services (surveys, tract maps, inventories, priority lists) because the prohibition on using funds to acquire lands also meant that funds could not be expended for these activities. This has meant that when landowners wished to donate lands for these trails to the Federal government, such transactions could not occur.
There is not a statistical inventory of trail sites and properties that have not been protected because of the lack of Federal funds for land protection. However, there are instances where lack of funding has meant that properties were sold to those uninterested in the trail, causing relocations, threatening the integrity and continuity of the trail, and in the instance of historic trails, threatening the loss of irreplaceable resources. Without the ownership mapping and other pre-acquisition information in hand, Federal agencies and nonprofit partners have been unable to accept donations of lands and easements.
If S. 1069 or H.R. 834 is passed, there will be at least five significant benefits for nearby residents and visitors to national trail corridors:
1. More uniform resource protection and protection authorities among all the national trails.
2. A more complete “tool kit” for Federal agencies and partners to help protect, as Congress intended, the significant cultural resources and natural areas associated with America’s national trails.
3. Full market value available to landowners who wish to sell lands for inclusion in national trails if neither state agencies nor nonprofit partners are able to acquire the land.
4. Increased likelihood of moving dangerous on-road sections of national trails to safer, more appropriate off-road locations.
5. Increased protection for historically significant sites and segments of national trails.
The National Park Service has found that administering trails with the current limitations on types of land protection and with limited means to negotiate directly with landowners has meant that many of these trails are little more than “paper trails.” If the National Trails System is to operate as a system, certain authorities within the act should be applied with consistency. The two national trail designations established in 1968 and all of the trails established since 1983 have had authority to spend Federal funds on lands with the consent of the owner. S. 1069 and H.R. 834 strive to apply that same principle to the trails established between 1978 and 1983.
The existing funding mechanisms for trail corridor protection of national trails are not enough to ensure that the trails will ever be completed or fully operational. Passage of willing seller authority will help establish parity among the trails and enable Federal trail administrators to use all the available authorities to complete the trails and trail corridors as they were originally designated.
We recommend four technical amendments to the National Trails System Act, which correct a few spelling and other grammatical errors. These amendments are attached to this testimony.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions you or your committee may have.
Technical amendments to H.R. 834 and/or S. 1069:
On page 7, after line 2, add the following new section:
SEC. 6. TECHNICAL AMENDMENTS TO THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM
The National Trails System Act (16 U.S.C. 1241) is amended as follows:
(1) In Section 5(c)(19) by striking “Kissimme” and inserting “Kissimmee”;
(2) In Section 5(c)(40)(D) by striking “later that” and inserting “later than”;
(3) In the first sentence of Section 5(d) by striking “establishment.”; and
(4) In Section 10(c)(1) by striking “The Ice Age” and inserting “the Ice Age”.