Testimony

STATEMENT OF
MARK REY

NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM
FOREST SERVICE
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

BEFORE THE
UNITED STATES SENATE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS
SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE

JULY 21, 2004

CONCERNING

S. 738 – Northern California Costal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act
S. 2334 – Caribbean National Forest Act of 2004
S. 1614 – Upper White Salmon Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
S. 2408 – The Montana National Forest Boundary Adjustment Act of 2004
S. 2221 – Umpqua National Forest Land Management Act of 2004
S. 2622 - Pecos National Historical Park Land Exchange Act of 2004
S. 2253 – Healthy Forest Youth Conservation Corps Act of 2004

Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to provide the Department’s views on: S. 738 to designate certain public lands in the State of California as wilderness; S. 2334 to designate certain National Forest System land in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System; S. 1614 to designate portions of the Upper White Salmon River in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area as either a wild or a scenic river; S.2221 to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to sell or exchange certain National Forest System lands in the State of Oregon; S. 2408 to adjust the boundaries of the Helena, Lolo and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests in the State of Montana, and S.2253 to permit young adults to perform projects to prevent and suppress fires, and provide disaster relief on public land through a Healthy Forest Youth Conservation Corps.

S. 738 – Northern California Costal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act

I will limit my remarks to the provisions of the bill related to lands managed by the US Forest Service and will defer to the Department of Interior on provisions relating to the Bureau of Land Management managed lands.

S. 738 would designate certain public lands in Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino, Lake, Napa, and Yolo Counties in the State of California as wilderness and to designate certain segments of the Black Butte River in Mendocino County, California as a wild and scenic river. In furtherance of the purposes of the Wilderness Act (16 U.S. C. 1131 et seq.), this bill would designate as wilderness, 109,670 acres in the Mendocino National Forest and 85,040 acres in the Six Rivers National Forest in the State of California, as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) or as additions to existing components of the NWPS. S. 738 would also designate 3 sections (21 miles) of the Black Butte River in California as part of the Wild and Scenic River system.

The following briefly describes each of the proposed wilderness designations:

In addition, the Department would also like the opportunity to work with the bill sponsors, the committee, and the Department of the Interior on the submission of amendments dealing with fire management activities and fire use as the Forest Service already has developed protocols for delegating responses during a fire emergency.

Section 102 (o) and 210 (d) would require the Secretary, upon request of an Indian tribe or Indian religious community, to temporarily close to the general public the use of portions of areas designated by the bill to protect the privacy of traditional cultural and religious activities in the area by members of the Indian Tribe or Indian religious community. We have several concerns with this provision. The provision removes the discretion of the Secretary to determine whether the requested closure is appropriate. The lack of discretion is inconsistent with the approach used in existing statutory authorizing temporary closure to certain federal lands, such as the Jemez National Recreation Area on the Santa Fe National Forest for exclusive use by Indian Tribes for traditional and cultural purposes. We believe a more effective approach will be included in forthcoming tribal authorities legislation that is proposed in the President’s FY 2005 Budget. We will be sending this proposed legislation in the near future. In addition, we understand the Department of Justice would like to consult with the committee and bill sponsors regarding constitutional issues related to sections 102 (o) and 210 (d). We also would like to work with the committee, bill sponsors and the Department of Interior on amendments that address additional concerns we have with the above mentioned sections.

Finally, the Department would also like the opportunity to work with the sponsors and the committee on the submission of amendments pertaining to Titles II and III in the bill which would require a fire management plan and report on the cultural and historical resources within the Black Butte River segments designated in the bill to insure these provisions are aligned with current policies and laws and are not duplicative.

S. 2334—Caribbean National Forest Act of 2004

S. 2334 would designate approximately 10,000 acres of land in the Caribbean National Forest/Luquillo Experimental Forest in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as the El Toro Wilderness and as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Department supports S. 2334.

The bill would provide that designation of the Wilderness shall not preclude within the area's boundaries: installation and maintenance of hydrologic, meteorological, climatological, or atmospheric data collection and transmission facilities when they are essential to the scientific research purposes of the Luquillo Experimental Forest.

The Caribbean National Forest encompasses over 28,000 acres of land, making it the largest block of public land on the Island of Puerto Rico. The Forest, locally known as El Yunque, is one of the most popular recreation sites in Puerto Rico and the National Forest System. Almost a million tourists, from Puerto Rico, the U.S. mainland, and abroad experience this tropical rain forest environment each year.

It is the only tropical rain forest in the National Forest System and the most accessible in the world. It is also home to the Puerto Rican parrot, one of the 10 most endangered birds in the world, and nearly 240 species of trees and 120 terrestrial animals—four of which are also listed as endangered species.

The 1997 revised Land and Resource Management Plan for the Caribbean National Forest/Luquillo Experimental Forest recommended wilderness designation for the 10,000-acre El Toro area. We believe the designation of the El Toro Wilderness would enhance the areas solitude, scenery and pristine qualities of the area. The El Toro Wilderness would become the only tropical forest in the National Forest Wilderness System and the only wilderness area in Puerto Rico.

S. 1614 – Upper White Salmon Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

This bill would amend section 3(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. 1274 (a)) to designate portions of the Upper White Salmon River in the State of Washington as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The four segments that the bill would designate are located on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and include 6.7 miles in the Mt. Adams Wilderness, classified as wild and 13.3 miles classified as scenic for a total of 20 miles. The Department supports S. 1614.

The Forest Service conducted a study of the Upper White Salmon River and its tributary, Cascade Creek, as directed by the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act (16 U.S.C. 544 et seq.) and determined their eligibility for designation as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The “Upper White Salmon River Wild and Scenic River Study Report and Final Legislative Environmental Impact Statement” (July 1997) recommended the entire 38.4 miles of the Upper White Salmon (including Cascade Creek) be added to the System. The recommended segments of the Upper White Salmon River possess outstanding wildlife, scenery, geology and hydrology, and are highly qualified for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Although the bill does not designate the 18.4 mile segment of river from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest boundary to the confluence with Gilmer Creek, which is bounded by non-federal lands, section 4 does not limit the suitability of this segment for future designation.

S. 2408 - Montana National Forests Boundary Adjustment Act of 2004

S. 2408 would extend the forest boundary of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest to include a recent acquisition contiguous to the forest boundary that occurred over a 3-year period from 2001 through 2003. S. 2408 also would extend the forest boundary of both the Lolo and Helena National Forests to provide for future land acquisitions in the Blackfoot River Valley. The Department supports S. 2334.

The bill would realize an estimated net increase of 6,193 acres within the Helena National Forest, 16,121 acres within the Lolo National Forest, and 11,727 acres within the Deerlodge National Forest.

Inclusion of these lands within the boundaries of these three national forests will clarify management of the lands acquired, simplify boundary management, and allow for the use of the Land and Water Conservation fund, outside the existing boundaries, for future acquisitions if land is offered for sale to the United States and if Congress should choose to fund any such purchase. There is substantial local community and county support for these boundary changes.

The Department would like to work with the Committee to make a minor technical change to the name of the map referenced in section 2(2) (C). Although the map is entitled “Blackfoot Community Project Acquisition Proposal Adjustments, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest'...", the proposed boundary adjustment on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is not associated with the proposed Blackfoot Community Project acquisition. Consequently, the name of the map should be entitled “Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Boundary Adjustment.”

S. 2221 – The Umpqua National Forest Land Management Act of 2004

S. 2221 would authorize the Secretary to sell or exchange certain National Forest System land in the State of Oregon. Specifically, this bill authorizes for sale or exchange administrative sites, including the Roseburg Service Center (approximately 2.92 acres), the Roseburg Powder House (approximately 1.34 acres) and the Brown Residences (approximately 2.35 acres). All of these sites are currently in use by the Forest Service but are no longer efficient for current agency needs. The Department supports S. 2221.

As S. 221 illustrates, the Department has a number of facilities and appurtenant administrative land excess to agency needs. The FY 2005 Budget contains a proposal for the establishment of a Facilities Acquisition and Enhancement Fund that would enable the Secretary to sell such units excess to need and to utilize proceeds from those sales for the acquisition or development of land and improvements for administrative consolidations while improving efficiencies through the reconstruction of functionally obsolete facilities or construction of new facilities. To this end, the Department will submit legislation concerning this Fund in the near future. In this context, then the Department supports S. 2221.

In section 3 (i) Disposition of Proceeds, would allow the agency to retain proceeds from a sale or exchange and use them towards “the acquisition or rehabilitation of existing facilities or construction of new facilities in Umpqua National Forest in the State”. We would recommend changing ‘in Umpqua National Forest in the State” to ‘for the Umpqua National Forest in the State” in order to facilitate the office collocation with the Bureau of Land Management office in Roseburg. Additional administrative facilities would be developed for the collocated offices and warehouses at the existing BLM site.

S. 2221 would also correct an unanticipated problem generated when the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness was initially designated. The original legal description, prepared in accordance with the map of record at the time of designation, inadvertently resulted in a short segment of Forest Service Road No. 2947-300 being within the Rogue Umpqua Divide Wilderness by approximately 20 feet. This has resulted in the closure of the road which is necessary to access National Forest System land beyond the area where the road is within the wilderness area. The small portion of land cut off by the road, which is designated as wilderness, clearly has no wilderness character. When the road is opened for short-term local emergencies (wildland fire suppression) there is an automatic conflict with wilderness management.

S. 2221 would make a technical correction to the wilderness boundary by slightly modifying the boundary so that (1) the road is outside the wilderness by removing approximately 1.3 acres from the wilderness, and (2) by adding approximately 1.3 acres of land with wilderness character to the wilderness to offset the removal.

S. 2622 – Pecos National Historic Park Land Exchange

The bill would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to convey approximately 160 acres located in the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico to private landowners in exchange for 154 acres owned by the landowners within the Pecos National Historic Park that would be conveyed to the Secretary of the Interior.

The 160 acres of National Forest System land to be conveyed are located on top of Glorieta Mesa and have been identified in the Forest Plan as base for exchange; however, this land was recommended for exchange to facilitate the acquisition of other desirable property for National Forest purposes within the Santa Fe National Forest. The federal parcel is undeveloped and has relatively gentle topography.

The Department would not oppose the bill if amended to clarify several points. We have concerns regarding potential complications that could arise as this transaction proceeds and would like to understand the committee’s intent as to how these should be resolved. We would like the opportunity to work with the committee, bill sponsors and the National Park Service on amendments to clarify expectations relative to the applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act and other applicable laws.

Although not specifically stated, the exchange would be subject to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). The National Forest System lands have not been surveyed for cultural resources. If, after survey, resources are found, the exchange would be subject to Sec.110 (b) of NHPA, which would require that data recovery precede conveyance. The legislation should identify who would be responsible for the data recovery costs in the event resources are found.

Appraisals would be submitted only to the Secretary of Interior for approval. We recommend an amendment to the legislation that requires joint approval by both the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture. If there is mutual valuation approval, we recommend the USDA and USDOI jointly and mutually secure a title policy, select an appraiser agreeable to both agencies, jointly develop appraisal instructions and jointly review and approve the appraisal.

We look forward to working with the Subcommittee, the sponsors, and the National Park Service on amendments to this bill to ensure that the final bill language reflects the needs and interests of all parties to the exchange.

S. 2253 – Healthy Forest Youth Conservation Corps Act of 2004

S.2253 would establish a Healthy Forest Youth Conservation Corps and would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts or cooperative agreements with existing state, local, non-profit conservation corps, or Indian Tribe or state natural resources, agriculture, or forestry departments, to carry out projects to prevent fire and suppress fires, rehabilitate public land affected or altered by fires, and provide disaster relief. The bill directs the Secretaries to give priority to certain projects, including those that will: (1) reduce hazardous fuels on public lands; (2) restore public land affected or imminently threatened by disease or insect infestation; (3) rehabilitate public land affected or altered by fires; (4) assess public land at a high risk of reburn; and (5) address public land located near a municipal watershed and water supply.

The Department is supportive of concepts embodied in S. 2253, particularly the recognition of the importance of the work conducted by state natural resources, agriculture, and forestry departments, and we recognize the values associated with providing opportunities for youth corps to be more proactive in healthy forest work. We would however, like to bring to the Committee some issues the Department has identified with S. 2253 that may require further consideration by the Committee.

In many respects, with the exception of including youth aged 16 and 17, the goals of S. 2253 are consistent with existing authorities that the Department has supported, including the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) [P.L.108-208], Public Land Corps Act of 1993, P. L. 103-82 Title II, and the Youth Conservation Corps Act of 1970, P. L. 91-378.
The Administration has concerns about the Committees expectation regarding the authorization of specific appropriations contained in the bill given current and future constraints.

As you are well aware, firefighting is an arduous and dangerous job that requires a certain amount of maturity, decision-making capability, and perspective in order to perform safely. Federal fire agencies recognize that this level of maturity cannot be expected of 16- and 17-year-old individuals and, through policy and regulation, will not place these individuals in hazardous roles.

We have significant concerns, with the inclusion of youth aged 16 and 17. Wildland fire suppression or forest and watershed restoration work authorized under S. 2253 pose threats to their safety that cannot be mitigated.

The Forest Service and Department of the Interior agencies agree that while some states allow individuals under the age of 18 to perform hazardous fire suppression duties on the fire line, this practice is not allowed by federal fire agency policy. In August 2003, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior each established the policy that persons under the age of 18 years old will not perform hazardous or arduous duties during wildland fire management operations on federal jurisdictions, even if the minors are supervised by states or other entities. While legal minors are not to be employed in hazardous fire-line positions, the policy does allow them to perform fire prevention, support, logistical, or other duties away from the fire-line—activities which, if performed under agreements with existing state, local, and non-profit youth conservation corps, are consistent with S. 2253.

Similarly, hazardous fuels reduction treatments or restoration activities require operating power equipment such as chainsaws, brushsaws, or using prescribed fire. This is extremely hazardous work, frequently on steep terrain in dense forest environments. We would be remiss in supporting an authorization for 16 and 17 year olds to use chainsaws or other power equipment in such hazardous situations.

This concludes my statement, I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.