STATEMENT OF D. THOMAS ROSS, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, RECREATION
AND CONSERVATION, 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. 677, 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.
June 10, 2003
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 677, 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. 677 with minor amendments to the legislation. 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 transaction would involve the purchase of a conservation easement on 26.5 acres, estimated to cost $100,000; however, there is the possibility the owner might donate all or a portion of the value. A second transaction would include an equal value exchange. 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 landowner has stated he is willing to donate any difference in value.
S. 677 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 2,530 acres and the National Conservation Area (NCA) would be expanded by approximately 7,100 acres. These additions are reflected on a new map, dated April 2, 2003, 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. 677 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. The landowner has previously sold conservation easements in this area (authorized by P.L. 106-76 and a minor boundary revision) to The Conservation Fund, who subsequently sold to NPS. Once acquisition of a conservation easement on this 26.5 acre parcel is conveyed, the rural character of the Red Rock Canyon gateway will be insured.
The second, the proposed Bramlett transaction, 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. 677 would also amend P.L. 106-76 regarding grazing within the park. P.L. 106-76 allowed for the continuation of grazing on the former BLM 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. 677 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. 677 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.
Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area
S. 677 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 was acquired in January 2000 from a willing seller through a land exchange. This acquisition was not completed in time to include the lands within the original NCA boundary. 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 adjacent to the acquisition would also be added to the NCA. The addition of these BLM lands will create a more manageable NCA boundary and provide appropriate protection and management emphasis for this area's resources.
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 previously were unaware of the encroachment issues.
Water Delivery Facilities
With the passage of Public Law 106-76 the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association expressed concern that access to water and related facilities might be limited. S. 677 clarifies that the Bureau of Reclamation will retain jurisdiction over and access to all land, facilities, and roads in the East Portal and Crystal Dam areas for the maintenance, repair, construction, replacement, and operation of any facilities relating to the delivery of water and power.
We believe that the bill, as introduced, has a couple of confusing and unneeded sections. We have recommended some language to clarify these sections and request that S. 677 be amended to reflect these changes. Specifically, Section 4 (b) of the bill is repetitive of Section 5(a)(2) of Public Law 106-76. P.L. 106-76 states the methods by which the NPS may acquire lands and already requires that acquisition may only occur with willing sellers. We believe Sec. 4(b) of the bill will result in confusion when the language is enacted and codified. Therefore, we recommend eliminating this duplicative language. The proposed amendments are attached to the testimony.
That concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that
you or the members of the subcommittee may have.
Technical and clarifying amendments to S. 677, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area Boundary Revision Act of 2003
On page 2, line 13, strike "2,725 acres" and insert "2,530 acres"
On page 2, line 16, strike "dated January 21, 2003" and insert "dated April 2, 2003"
On page 2, strike lines 21 and 22, and insert "(1) by striking "Upon enactment of this title, the Secretary shall transfer" and inserting the following:"
On page 2, strike line 24, and insert "(A) IN GENERAL.-On enactment of this title, the Secretary shall transfer".
On page 2, strike lines 25 and 26, and insert "(2) by adding after the first sentence of subsection (b)(1)(A), as amended by paragraph (1), the following:"
On page 3, strike line 11, and insert "(3) by striking "The Secretary shall administer" and inserting "(2) AUTHORITY.-The Secretary shall administer".
On page 5, line 5, by striking "(a) Authority to Acquire Lands."-and
On page 5, by striking lines 10 through 18.
On page 6, line 9, strike "dated January 21, 2003" and insert "dated April 2, 2003"
On page 6, by striking lines 11 through 22 and insert
"The Commissioner of Reclamation shall have access to and retain administrative jurisdiction over the Crystal Dam Access Road and land, facilities, and roads of the Bureau of Reclamation in the East Portal area, including the Gunnison Tunnel, and the Crystal Dam area, as depicted on the maps identified in section 4 of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area Act of 1999 and section 2(a)(2) of this Act for the maintenance, repair, construction, replacement, and operation of any facilities relating to the delivery of water and power under the jurisdiction of the Bureau."