May 13, 2003
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department's views
S. 630 and H.R. 519. These bills, which are virtually identical, would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of the San Gabriel River Watershed in Southern California. H.R. 519 passed the House on March 19, 2003.
Special resource studies assess resources in the study area, determine whether they meet the criteria for addition to the National Park System, and offer alternative recommendations for their protection. S. 630 and H.R. 519 would authorize the study of the San Gabriel River Watershed, which runs south from the San Gabriel Mountains through a heavily urbanized part of Los Angeles County. The Department supports studying this area. However, because the study area includes a significant amount of United States Forest Service lands, we believe that the bill should be amended to authorize a joint study with the Department of Agriculture.
At first glance, many may view this river as simply a concrete-lined ditch, however, it provides an important opportunity for low-impact recreation for many urban residents. Several successful efforts have already been undertaken to provide bikeways and hiking areas along the banks of the San Gabriel. Additionally, small tracts of green space have been acquired to provide playgrounds, picnic areas, bicycling and walking trails. Native vegetation has been restored, repairing habitats and beautifying the landscape in many areas.
The study area specified by S. 630 and H.R. 519 includes the San Gabriel River and its tributaries north of and including Santa Fe Springs, and the portion of the San Gabriel Mountains that lies within the jurisdiction of the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy (RMC). The study would assess low-impact recreation and educational uses, access to urban open space, habitat quality, wildlife and habitat restoration and protection, and watershed improvements within that area.
The watershed of the San Gabriel River contains important natural resources, which are disappearing throughout Los Angeles County. Continuous greenbelt corridors provided by the river serve as habitat for breeding, feeding, resting or migrating birds and mammals, which allows migration to take place through developed areas. The rugged terrain of the higher reaches of the watershed contains different habitats including rock outcroppings and vegetation native to the Pacific coast foothills.
This area also has a rich cultural heritage, which is evident by the large number of historically significant properties within the proposed study area. Among them is the Mission San Gabriel Archangel, founded in 1771 by the Spanish missionaries who were moving up the coast of California.
The San Gabriel River Watershed contains part of the Angeles National Forest and several state, county and local parks. The proposed study would look at opportunities for establishing recreational trails between these natural areas and the communities in the region. The estimated cost of the study is $375,000. In FY 2003, about $1 million was provided for special resource studies. There are 29 studies previously authorized by Congress that are being funded from the special resource study budget, nearly half of which will have at least some funding needs beyond FY 2003. We transmitted 6 special resource studies to Congress in FY 2002, and we expect to transmit about 15 this fiscal year or early next fiscal year. Our highest priority is to complete pending studies, though we expect to start newly authorized studies as soon as funds are made available.
Recognizing the limitation of federal resources for acquiring and managing land, the study would have to examine a number of alternatives for protecting resources in the area. Alternatives to federal management of resources that are often considered in a special resource study for this type of area include national trail designations, national heritage area designations, and the provision of technical assistance to state and local governments for conservation of rivers, trails, natural areas, and cultural resources. A study of an area where land ownership and jurisdictional boundaries are as complex as they are in the San Gabriel River Watershed would likely emphasize public-private partnerships.
In conducting the study, the National Park Service would work closely with the RMC, which was established in 1999 as an independent agency within the Resources Agency of the State of California. The RMC has brought diverse groups together to work in partnership to protect the valuable resources within the area under their jurisdiction.
Consideration of the issues and options available for protecting resources in a large, heavily populated area with stakeholders at all levels of government calls for extensive public meetings, comment periods, and analysis. On April 8, 2003, the Senate passed S. 347, which would authorize a study of the Rim of the Valley Corridor, also in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. That proposed study and the proposed San Gabriel River Watershed study, both of which would affect large, diverse constituencies, would be similar studies conducted in relative close proximity. If both bills are enacted in a close timeframe, the National Park Service would want to coordinate the two studies to achieve efficiencies in costs and staff resources, and to minimize public confusion.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions
you may have.