Lame-Duck Congress Has Plateful of National Park-Related Legislation To Consider

Congress has an opportunity in the waning days of its 111th session to give the National Park Service authority over Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico. Tom Ribe photo.

Seemingly being pulled in a variety of directions by the election results, the national deficit, inertia, and an overall malaise, Congress nevertheless enters its lame-duck session with much on its plate when it comes to the National Park System.

There are bills calling for the study of prospective units to the park system and measures that would expand existing units. While The Wilderness Society is calling on Congress to act on these and other wilderness-related measures before the 111th session comes to a close, it will be interesting to see whether the politicians can muster the will to do so.

“Up to this point in the Congress, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved over 75 land, water, and wildlife bills. The Environment and Public Works Committee and Commerce Committee have approved over 45 land, water, and wildlife bills, and these bills are all still pending before the Senate, and these are among the bills that we’re urging final action on before the Congress adjourns this year," said Paul Spitler, the Society's National Wilderness Campaigns associate director during a conference call last week.

“These include bills to protect new wilderness areas, national parks, national monuments, to protect free-flowing rivers and enhance and conserve clean water, and to safeguard America's heritage area, battlefields and historic sites," he added. "They provide important benefits to communities across the country by facilitating economic development and creating jobs, protecting key American natural and historic resources and providing opportunities for all Americans to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature."

Here's a glimpse of many of the pending park-related measures:

* S. 3452. Introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, the Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act would hand the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico from the U.S. Forest Service over to the Park Service. It also calls for management and operation of the proposed preserve to be handled by the staff at Bandelier National Monument. According to the Congressional Budget Office, passing this legislation would carry a price tag of $16 million during the years 2011-2015, and another $16 million during the following five years.

* S. 2933. Sponsored by Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH, the Col. Charles Young Home Study Act would direct the Park Service to determine where this home in Xenia, Ohio, should be added to the park system. Col. Young was an African-American who served in the U.S. Army between 1884-1922, according to the CBO. It would cost the Park Service an estimated $250,000 over three years to produce the study, the CBO analysts said.

* H.R. 2330. Introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-CO, the Camp Hale Study Act calls on the Park Service and Forest Service to determine whether Camp Hale, a military training grounds used by the 10th Mountain Division for its preparation to fight in Europe in World War II, should be added to the park system. CBO analysts project it would cost less than $500,000 over three years to produce the study.

* S. 2722. Sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, (with companion legislation sponsored in the House by Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-WY), the Heart Mountain Relocation Center Study Act would direct the Park Service to determine the suitability of this World War II Japanese internment camp as a unit of the park system. CBO estimates the study would cost $200,000 over three years.

* S. 1629. Proposed by Sen. Roland Burris, D-IL, the New Philadelphia, Illinois, Study Act would direct the Park Service to determine whether the New Philadelphia archaeological site, which stands where African-American Frank McWorter founded, planned, and legally recorded a townsite in 1836, should be added to the park system. It already is a National Historic Landmark. It would cost an estimated $250,000 over three years for the Park Service to produce the study, according to CBO projections.

* H.R. 118. Introduced by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, this bill calls for Morristown National Historical Park to be expanded by up to 100 acres at an estimated cost of $10 million during the 2010-2014 time-period, according to the CBO. The 1,700-acre historical park is composed of four non-contiguous units in northern New Jersey. This legislation calls for up to acreage to be added as buffers from development as the land becomes "available for donation or sale from willing landowners." There would be additional costs of less than $100,000 to produce related signs, maps and other materials, the CBO analysis noted.

* H.R. 1471. Introduced by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-GA, this measure would expand the boundaries of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site by about 30 acres at an estimated cost of $17 million over a five-year period.

* H.R. 3726. Proposed by Rep. Donna Christensen, D-VI, this bill calls for the expenditure of at least $26 million over a five-year period to add Castle Nugent on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the park system. "The historic agricultural site encompasses about 8,600 acres of submerged lands owned by the Virgin Islands and 2,900 acres of non-submerged lands that are privately owned," notes the CBO analysis. The $26 million would acquire about half the acreage; the entire parcel has a value of about $45 million, the analysts said, "and would take 10 years to acquire. Based on that information, CBO expects that most of the private land acquisition would be accomplished by purchase and the public lands through donations and exchanges." CBO analysts also estimate it would cost the Park Service about $1 million to develop a general management plan for the proposed park, and then another $1 million annually to actually manage the property. The proposal has generated some acrimony among Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, where Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, has said the country simply can't afford such an addition at this time.

* H.R. 4003. Sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, this measure would require the Park Service "to conduct a study of the Hudson River Valley in New York to evaluate the national significance of the area and to determine the feasibility and suitability of designating the valley as a unit of the National Park System." Such a study is estimated by the CBO to cost less than $500,000 over a three-year period.

* H.R. 4438. Introduced by Rep. Ciro Rodriquez, D-TX, this measure would cost about $14 million -- $4 million to be spent over five years for the Park Service to study and expand the borders of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and another $10 million to build a headquarters and educational facility near the mission. The legislation would allow the Park Service to "enter into a cooperative agreement with the state or local government, or a nonprofit organization to construct" the facilities.

* H.R. 4686. This measure, drafted by Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, would direct the Park Service to determine whether the island of Rota, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, should be designated a unit of the National Park System. A CBO analysis predicts it would cost about $200,000 over three years to complete the study.

* H.R. 3804. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY, proposed this legislation to "make a variety of changes to policies and procedures of the National Park Service as well as to laws governing NPS property management. The act also would raise the current ceiling on amounts authorized to be appropriated for the NPS volunteer program. Based on information provided by the NPS and assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, CBO estimates that carrying out the volunteer program under the act would cost $24 million over the 2011-2015 period."

* H.R. 685. Drafted by Rep. William Clay, D-Missouri, this measure calls for a "special resource study to evaluate ways of protecting and interpreting sites related to the civil rights movement in the United States. Based on information provided by the National Park Service and assuming the availability of appropriated funds, CBO estimates that conducting the study would cost about $500,000 over the next three years."

S. 3222. This proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, calls for the Park Service to study the feasibility of establishing "a national historic trail commemorating the route traveled by the Buffalo Soldiers from their post in the Presidio in San Francisco to the Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks and to any other national parks where they may have served." The CBO has yet to conduct a cost analysis of this measure.

S. 2976. Sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act would official designated 32,577 acres of the lakeshore as official wilderness.

That's quite a shopping list, one that would add well over $100 million to the budget if all were approved, plus an unidentified amount to operate some of these properties down the road. Still, Mr. Spitler believes there's support in Congress to approve them.

"I mentioned over 120 bills at stake, 89 Democratic bills, 29 Republican bills, and five independent bills. That is a huge number of bills and a huge number of bipartisan authors that have put their time and energy into developing these proposals and seeing them through the legislative process," he said. "The fact that these are geographically diverse, they affect 30 states directly and all 50 states indirectly, also adds to the importance of these measures."

Comments

Why not just make the entire U.S. a National Park and be done with it....

I hope the Congress can get its act together and pass an Omnibus Bill incorporating an array of these bills you cite, Kurt. It would be such a relief if we saw an end to the efforts of some Members of Congress to destroy the ability of Congress to act when needed. Time to be patriots and protect the most important places in America.

And as for Anonymous' pithy comment above, everyone knows the total acreage in the National Park System is a tiny part of the significant landscapes of America. The acreage involved would not substantially increase the overall size of the System at alll, but would better protect places important to most Americans. There is a yearning in this country for the preservation of the best places in America. The overwhelming bulk of the United States is available for development.

Ideally, we would also find ways to protect the character of working landscapes, places people live and work and use everyday, but which are special, but in ways that federal ownership of most of the landscape is not in the public interest. But places we could lose with uncoordinated development. Places to have smart growth and landscape preservation both.

Even with that, a very small part of America is involved.

Kurt, thank you for this article on a possible Omnibus lands bill, and please keep us up to date on how Congress chooses to consider these opportunities for preservation.

Another important one is H.R. - 1376 to establish the Waco Mammoth Site National Monument. The National Park Service's Special Resource Study on this subject has already recommended that it be included in the National Park System, based in part on its significance as "the nation’s first and only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths," the "exceptional interpretive value" of the remains, and the fact that it was unable to identify other suitable management alternatives for the site. The fate of this bill is particularly interesting, though, as this measure has been sponsored by long-time Texas Democrat Chet Edwards, and I don't know if its known whether his successor, Republican Bill Flores, supports the proposal and/or whether or not he would be pushing it in the new Congress.

While it would be great if Congress would pass some of the pending park legislation I would settle for them doing their most basic and fundamental task.... passing the FY 2011 appropriation bills!

The North Country Trail Association is also waiting for a reroute bill to pass that would officially reroute the trail.

http://www.northcountrytrail.org/insight/?p=1160

That truly made me laugh. I suddenly had an image of park rangers greeting people at the borders, offering friendly pamphlets and maps. And personally I've already imagined myself living the rest of my life in a tent, so why not? :-)

Here's hoping Harriet Tubman NHP (at least New York if not also Maryland) comes to fruition. Also money to acquire lands within Petrified Forest NP.

HR 3726 in the Virgin Islands... gotta love government-speak. Submerged lands?

Not gonna happen. Theres START, immigration reform, expiring tax cuts, and a budget ahead of all that. Then theres the Republican standard filibuster and the Democratic spinelessness, now magnified by their gutlessness and castration by the elections

I did not have the guts to add up how much it would cost to buy and build and manage all these initiaitves, particularly noting the 17 million for 30 acres at the Jimmy Carter Park ( are you sure about that ). The cost of the studies scared the hell out of me. If these are such good ideas, how much can it cost to say lets do it.
They could sure use some of the money wasted on the mess at Cape Hatteras.

Ron (obxguys)