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Statement of
Chad Calvert
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals Management
Department of the Interior
Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
Hearing on S. 738, Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act
July 21, 2004

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on S. 738, the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act. I will confine my remarks to those provisions of the bill which relate to lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and will defer to the Department of Agriculture on provisions regarding lands managed by the Forest Service. While we will propose a number of amendments to S. 738, if those amendments are made, the Department of the Interior will support this legislation as it relates to BLM-managed lands.

This Administration strongly supports the efforts of members of Congress to work together with their local constituents to find solutions to the lingering Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs). Only Congress can determine the final status of WSAs—whether to designate as wilderness or release lands from WSA status. The WSA issue is one that should be resolved and we always stand ready to work with Members of Congress toward solutions.

S. 738 proposes to designate as wilderness nearly 120,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in California’s 1st Congressional District. Because wilderness boundaries do not follow Congressional District boundaries, this has resulted in a few awkward provisions in the legislation that we will point out. Overall, we support the designations, but recommend some changes to the management language which we hope the committee will consider.

The areas proposed for designation include stunning landscapes, dramatic coastlines, and unique habitats. Taken together, these proposed wilderness areas include pristine Pacific Coast, steep inland canyons, rushing whitewater and mountainous terrain. The array of wildlife is incredibly diverse. Large mammals such as elk, sea lions, and black bear populate these areas. Various raptors including the endangered northern spotted owl, peregrine falcons and eagles nest here. Additionally, the areas provide significant habitat for steelhead, coho, and Chinook salmon, all listed endangered species. Recreational use is varied and scattered throughout the area including rafting, fishing, hiking, camping, and hunting, all of which will continue after designation.

A brief description of each proposed wilderness designation is in order:

For those areas in the bill not identified as WSAs, and for the areas in the bill that were determined by the BLM to be non-suitable for wilderness, we note that Congress has plenary authority over the disposition of public lands. Except as otherwise specified, if Congress ultimately approves the bill, we do not see any additional management impediments to their inclusion.

We would like the opportunity to work with the sponsors and the Committee to perfect boundaries in a few cases, and release from WSA status those areas, primarily small bits and pieces of WSAs (our current estimate is around 2,200 acres), that are not designated wilderness by S. 738. Leaving those pieces unaddressed creates potential management problems.

We would also like the opportunity to work with the sponsors and the Committee on the management language in the bill. Specifically, we recommend adding standard language on the management of newly-acquired lands within the wilderness area and a full withdrawal of the lands designated as wilderness. The Department strongly recommends the legislation be amended to clarify that the wilderness designation not constitute or be construed to constitute either an express or implied reservation of any water rights. Additional technical matters on maps should also be addressed.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the sections of S. 738 which apply to BLM-managed lands. The resolution of these longstanding WSA questions is a priority for the Department and we welcome the opportunity to move this debate forward.

I would be happy to answer any questions.