Summary of Hearings on Public Lands (11-30-06)
- November 16, 2006: Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands and
Forests, Hearing S. 3636, The Washington County Growth and Conservation
Act and S. 3772, White Pine County Conservation, Recreation
and Development Act
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Hearing on S. 3636, The Washington County Growth and Conservation
Act and S. 3772, White Pine County Conservation, Recreation
and Development Act
November 16, 2006
The Honorable Robert Bennett, Member, U.S. Senate
The Honorable John Ensign, Member, U.S. Senate
The Honorable Harry Reid, Member, U.S. Senate
Chad Calvert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management,
Department of the Interior
Mr. Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief of the National Forest System, U.S.
Mr. Brent Eldridge, Commissioner, White Pine County, Nevada
Mr. Alan Garder, Commissioner, Washington County, Utah
Mr. Jerry Greenberg, Vice President, Regional Conservation, The Wilderness
Mr. Peter Metcalf, CEO, Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd., Board of Directors,
Outdoor Industry Association
The Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests of the Senate Committee
on Energy and Natural Resources met on November 16, 2006 to discuss
two controversial land bills, the Washington County Growth and Conservation
Act of 2006, S.3636, and the White Pine County Conservation, Recreation,
and Development Act of 2006, S. 3772, which designate wilderness areas
in exchange for the sale of federal lands to private developers.
The Washington County land bill, S.3636,
and its related House bill, H.R.5769,
have faced the greatest opposition from members of Congress. These
bills, introduced by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Representative
Jim Matheson (D-UT) would sell off 25,000 acres to private developers
in Washington County, UT, the fifth-fastest growing county in the
nation, while preserving 220,000 acres, over half of which are already
designated as wilderness area. Some Washington County citizens deem
the sale necessary to accommodate the rapidly escalating population.
However, conservationists see the sale as an extremely harmful action,
which will only threaten various endangered species that live in the
area with more development in an already overpopulated area.
The White Pine County Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act
of 2006, S.
3772, introduced by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and John Ensign
(R-NV), similarly trades the sale of 45,000 acres of federally-owned
land for the designation of 545,000 acres to 13 wilderness areas in
White Pine County. The Nevada acreage occurs in one of the most sparsely
populated counties in the nation. Therefore, conservationists are
less concerned that the land sale will result in immediate development.
Furthermore, the area up for sale has been assessed by various stakeholders,
as well as the Bureau of Land Management, and has been designated
as an appropriate choice to divest.
Chairman Larry Craig (R-ID) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) did
not provide introductory statements so as to provide ample time for
The first witness panel featured three senators who have been involved
in the creation of these land bills. Senator Bennett defended the
Utah land bill, S.3636, detailing the process of its creation in which
all stakeholders were invited to give input over more than a two-year
period. Bennett referenced a Nevada land bill, the 1998 Lincoln Conservation,
Recreation, and Development Act, which used money from land sales
and put it into schools, public lands and other in-state programs.
He said that this bill set a precedent for how wilderness bills should
be dealt with. "We have done our very best to stay in that historic
precedent," stated Bennett.
Senator Ensign said that he worked tirelessly with all affected parties
to produce the Nevada land bill, S.3772. He cautioned against any
agreements with the Administration that sacrificed land sales to the
private sector, but Ensign said that this bill should be an exception.
It was created as a compromise, and it has resulted in a product that
is "better than expected."
Senator Reid, also noted the long inclusive process that went into
the creation of S. 3772. He described White Lands County as home to
elk herds and the southernmost glaciers in the country, as well as
other natural wonders which this bill seeks to preserve. Reid stated
that the federal government owned 40 percent of air space and 94 percent
of the land in White Pine County. He said Las Vegas' sprawl was, in
fact, not a sprawl because, in his estimation, there exists "no
land to sprawl on." "Is it asking too much in a county that's
95 percent federal land to put up a few thousand acres for private
ownership? I don't think so," Reid said.
The second witness panel at the hearing included members of agencies
within the Administration. Chad Calvert, Principal Deputy Assistant
Secretary of the Land and Minerals Management of the Department of
the Interior, testified on the Utah land bill, S.3636. He applauded
the hard work done by the committee in creating the legislation, but
noted areas which required further improvements. Calvert said that,
in contrast to the proposed bill, the Administration supports the
notion that "all taxpayers should receive some benefit from land
sales," not simply citizens in Utah. He also noted that the bill
affects the Shivwits Indian Tribe and therefore, urged the committee
to "resolve any remaining issues with the Tribe regarding traditional
access and other cultural and religious issues."
Calvert also expressed concern that the Bureau of Land Management
has not yet identified 20,000 acres of the proposed sale as suitable
for disposal and that of the high concentration of listed threatened
or endangered species on BLM-managed land within Washington County,
four of the ten listed species were endangered plants that depend
on public land habitat to avoid extinction. Another concern of the
Administration is that the 375,000 acres would be withdrawn from mining
and mineral leasing laws and mineral materials laws. This would remove
potential sand and gravel excavation, which is needed for local infrastructure
development. For these reasons, Calvert suggested the bill needs additional
Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief of National Forest System of the Forest
Service of U.S. Department of Agriculture, testified that the Department
does not oppose S.3636, but has some concerns with certain provisions.
Holtrop reported that the Department objects to the authorization
of the state's use of aircraft in wilderness areas for wildlife management
purposes. Furthermore, the Department worries that Title II, designating
wilderness areas, could make the areas more difficult to manage and
that trail construction may exceed budgetary constraints.
Regarding both land bills, Holtrop echoed Calvert's concerns. "The
Administration opposes any changes to current land sale authorities
that do not ensure a significant portion of those proceeds are returned
to the Treasury to benefit all taxpayers," he stated.
The third panel featured representatives from the areas affected
by the bills. Brent Eldridge, chairman of the White Pine County Commission
testified on S.2772 on behalf of the Commission and reported that
the county supports the overall land bill concept, but has five critical
issues with the bill.
First, Eldridge stressed that studies on water resources within the
1998 Lincoln County land bill should be included in S.3772 to address
Western water concerns. Second, Eldridge asked that $30 million of
the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA) Capital Improvement
and Conservation funds in the bill be designated for a Central Steptoe
Valley Environmental Enhancement project for three projects -renovation
of the Comins Lake Dam, expansion of water and waste treatment, and
purchase of land including "sensitive habitat." Third, Eldridge
expanded on the commission's concerns over the SNPLMA funds and asked
that the designation of these funds to urban projects be reconsidered.
Fourth, and "most controversial," is the designation of
hundreds of acres to the Ely Shoshone Tribe. Eldridge stated that
these acres should remain undeveloped for "environmental and
jurisdictional" reasons, and therefore, should not be given to
the tribe. Fifth, the commission requested that the provision eliminating
mineral excavation, be adjusted to accommodate active mining claims
and documented areas with mineral potential.
Alan Gardner, Washington County commissioner, stated that his county
is "the fastest growing metropolitan planning organization in
the United States" and that twelve endangered species reside
in his area. He testified on the "grassroots" process from
which S.3636 came, detailing a working group of all stakeholders that
met and worked on the bill with the senators. Gardner stated that
the funding from the sale of the land would allocate 5 percent to
schools, 2 percent to county administrative costs, 8 percent to long-term
water projects and 85 percent to a special conservation fund for conservation,
preservation and maintenance of wilderness areas. He reported that
the BLM had scrutinized the first parcel of 4300 acres and designated
them appropriate for sale and that the agency would have a full year
to examine the rest of the 20,000 acres before land sale would be
authorized to take place.
The two concerns that the county has about the bill are the allotment
of more wilderness in an area that already has 29 percent of its land
under special designation and the closing of the Sawmill Road, a favorite
choice for off-road vehicles. Gardner said that the adding to the
number of acres of wilderness has been an especially "difficult
pill for the county to swallow."
Jerry Greenberg, Vice-President of the Wilderness Society, testified
on behalf of 3,600 Nevadans in White Pine County and 210,000 citizens
in the United States. He said S.3772 was the outcome of five years
of citizen efforts and expressed support for constraints on the land
sale which require the BLM Land Use Planning process and environmental
reviews to take place before the exchange can transpire. He recommended
that the 45,000 acres up for sale be reduced to reflect the BLM process.
However, Greenberg noted that the lands in the Steptoe Valley allocated
for sale "contain little or no ecological value" and therefore,
have been well chosen. He noted his support for land sale proceeds
to go to Nevada conservation efforts as stated in S.3772.
Greenberg stated that concerns from the mining industry have been
addressed and that "every effort has been made to exclude active
mining areas from these proposals." He also supported the fair
treatment of the Ely Shoshone Tribe and the addition of 3,500 acres
of land to their trust. Though the society would like the Blue Mass/Kern
Mountains and the Antelope Range included in the wilderness designation
of this bill, Greenberg said, "S. 3772 would protect a significant
amount of wilderness and make important additions to the National
Wilderness Preservation System."
Peter Metcalf, President of Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd. in Salt
Lake City, UT, testified in regard to S.3636 on behalf of the Outdoor
Industry Association (OIA), which he stated contributes $730 billion
to the U.S. economy each year and supports 6.5 million jobs throughout
the country. Metcalf reported that OIA opposes S.3636, because it
fails to protect many deserving areas and instead, designates 210,000
acres, 120,000 of which are already part of Zion National Park, as
wilderness. He warned against the "dangerous precedent"
of selling federal lands owned by all Americans to fund local and
federal government projects. Metcalf quoted a June 21st poll which
reported that 89 percent of Utah citizens think that public hearings
need to be held in Utah before the legislation is voted on in the
nation's capital and noted that in Washington County, 40 letters-to-the-
editor have been published opposing the bill. He called for the withdrawal
of this legislation for more public review and improvements.
During the question and answer period, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
stated that the process of selling federal land circumvents the BLM
process and challenged the group to consider what precedents these
bills will set for the future of conservation legislation.
Full testimony of this hearing is available here.
Sources: Hearing testimony
Contributed by Rachel Bleshman, Fall AAPG/AGI 2006 Intern.
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Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on November 30, 2006