Statement on House Natural Resources Committee markup (1/28/2014)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
The Honorable Doc Hastings, Chairman
U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
 
The Honorable Peter DeFazio, Ranking Member
U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources
1324 Longworth House Building
Washington, DC 20515
 
Dear Chairman Hastings, Ranking Member DeFazio and Members of the Committee:
 
We are writing to express our views on the bills being considered tomorrow in the Natural Resources Committee. In particular, we would like to express our views on several of the individual bills under consideration:
 
H.R. 163 - Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act
The Wilderness Society supports H.R. 163, which would designate 32,557 acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as wilderness. H.R. 163 is a carefully crafted proposal that has bipartisan support among the Michigan delegation and broad public support within the local community. We urge the Committee to support this bill as introduced, without any weakening amendments.
 
H.R. 433 – Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act
The Wilderness Society supports the wilderness designations in H.R. 433, the Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act, which would establish the Pine Forest Range and Wovoka Wilderness Areas. However, we have serious concerns about the management language added to the amendment in a nature of a substitute that would undermine the integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System, jeopardize public safety, and threaten natural resources. We urge the Committee to modify the amendment language prior to final consideration.
 
Our concerns include:
 
Section 103(b)(2)(d)—This subsection prohibits the closure of any road that is “adjacent to, in or near” the proposed wilderness unless another road is simultaneously opened. This provision could threaten public safety or natural resources by placing arbitrary and unjustifiable restrictions on the Secretary of the Interior’s ability to manage public roads. The Wilderness Society urges that subsection 103(b)(2)(d) be deleted.
 
Sections 104(c) and 203(c)(3)—These subsections prohibit the United States from acquiring inholdings from willing sellers within the proposed wilderness areas. Instead, unlike all other inholders within public lands, owners of private inholdings in these two wilderness areas could only convey their land to the United States by donation or exchange. This provision unfairly and unconstitutionally limits the property rights of private landowners by inhibiting their ability to willingly sell their land to a willing buyer. Such a limitation will make it more difficult to acquire inholdings from willing sellers within wilderness areas. The Wilderness Society urges that subsections 104(c) and 203(c)(3) are revised to conform to the United States Constitution and permit acquisition of land from a willing seller.
 
Section 104(g)—This subsection exempts all wildfire management activities, including forest thinning and other presuppression activities, from the Wilderness Act in the proposed Pine Forest Range wilderness. The Wilderness Act already provides authority to address wildfires, insects, and disease in section 4(d)(1) and wildfire management, including presuppression where appropriate, are permissible in accordance with The Wilderness Act. However, these activities are to be carried out within the Wilderness Act’s overall framework of wilderness management, which includes requirements that wilderness areas be managed to preserve their wilderness character. Subsection 104(f) provides clear authority to address wildfire within the proposed Pine Forest Range wilderness in accordance with the Wilderness Act. Thus, subsection 104(g) is not necessary, as evidenced by its omission from the introduced legislation and Title II, regarding the Wovoka Wilderness. The Wilderness Society urges that subsection 104(g), which is unnecessary and contrary to the Wilderness Act, be deleted.
 
Section 105—This section would prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from ever studying specified lands adjacent to the proposed Pine Forest Range Wilderness for its values as wilderness or an area of critical environmental concern. Such a provision, never before included in wilderness legislation, would unduly limit the Secretary’s limitation to conserve important natural resources after considering public input. Standard release language, as was included in the introduced version of H.R. 433, is adequate to release the lands adjacent to the proposed Pine Forest Range Wilderness for multiple use activities in accordance with the Federal Land Management and Policy Act, while preserving Secretarial discretion to make informed decisions about the management of these lands. The Wilderness Society urges that section 105 be deleted and replaced with the release language included in the introduced version of HR 433.
 
Section 106(d)—This section would prohibit emergency hunting closures that are necessary for national security, public safety, or resource conservation from lasting longer than one year. Such an arbitrary limitation may prevent land managers from effectively protecting national security, public safety, or natural resources in the event that a longer closure period is necessary. Further, the one-year limitation is not necessary, as evidenced by its omission from the introduced legislation and the similar provision regarding the Wovoka Wilderness in subsection 203(d)(4). The Wilderness Society urges that the arbitrary one-year limitation on temporary closures in section 106(d) be deleted.
 
Section 204(c)(3)—This section would prohibit the Secretary pf Agriculture (sic) from prohibiting motorized vehicles where they are allowed as of the date of enactment, and prohibit the Secretary from closing any road “in or near” the proposed Wovoka Wilderness and withdrawal area without simultaneously opening another road. Like section 103(b)(2)(d), this section unduly limits the Secretary’s discretion to manage roads, thus jeopardizing public safety and natural resources. The Wilderness Society urges that section 204(c)(3) be deleted.
 
None of these egregious provisions are included in the introduced versions of the Pine Forest or Lyon County legislation and their inclusion in the amendment in a nature of a substitute are unnecessary and deleterious. In order to fulfill the agreement supported by the local communities, stakeholders and members of Congress who introduced the legislation, preserve the integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System, protect public safety and safeguard natural resources, The Wilderness Society urges the Committee to revise these provisions prior to final consideration of H.R. 433.
 
H.R. 2095 – Land Disposal Transparency and Efficiency Act
The Wilderness Society opposes H.R. 2095, the Land Disposal Transparency and Efficiency Act, which would prohibit land acquisition by federal agencies until certain conditions are met. This measure would undermine the ability of private landowners to sell their land to the federal government, jeopardize natural resource protection and access to public lands, and harm local economies.
 
H.R. 2259 – North Fork Watershed Protection Act
The Wilderness Society supports H.R. 2259, the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, which would preserve a nationally significant watershed next to Glacier National Park and in the heart of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem. We urge the Committee to support this measure as introduced without any weakening amendments.
 
H.R. 2657 – Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act
The Wilderness Society opposes H.R. 2657, the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, which would require the disposal of specified federal lands. The Wilderness Society supports the sale of excess Bureau of Land Management lands through the Federal Land Transaction and Facilitation Act (FLTFA), which provides a common-sense “land for land” approach to land disposal. We urge the Committee to reject H.R. 2657, and to instead support reauthorization of FLTFA.
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