National Parks, Forests, And Public Lands
From the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the crown of the Statue of Liberty in New York, to the peaks of Mount Denali in Alaska, America’s public lands include some of the most iconic landscapes and treasured places in the world.
The Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands oversees this collection of crown jewels, and the federal agencies tasked with their protection.
New Mexico 1st District
California 47th District
Arizona 7th District
Colorado 1st District
Michigan 12th District
Nevada 4th District
California 2nd District
Hawaii 1st District
Colorado 2nd District
New York 20th District
Raúl M. Grijalva
Arizona 3rd District
The Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act
- On February 26, 2019, Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act – a bill that protects approximately 1 million acres north and south of Grand Canyon National Park from new mining activities, preventing future damage to the region’s exceptional resources. On June 4, Chair Grijalva spoke alongside other leading Democratic lawmakers, Native American leaders, and Arizona conservationists and business leaders at a press conference about the urgent need to protect the Grand Canyon from uranium mining.
- On June 5, the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands heard from Native American leaders, the Mayor of Flagstaff, and conservation allies about the toxic legacy of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region and the threat that new mining claims pose to local communities and the regional economy.
- On July 17, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act – teeing up the bill for consideration by the full House of Representatives.
- On October 30, 2019, the bill passed the House, advancing on a 236-185 vote.
- Read letters of support here.
- See a video featuring Native American and conservation allies explaining the importance of Chair Grijalva’s proposal here.
- See history of Chair Grijalva's work to protect the Grand Canyon here.
What Does a Permanent Mineral Withdrawal Mean?
In 2012, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims on more than 1 million acres of public land surrounding the Grand Canyon. Despite these protections, mining industry interests, particularly uranium producers, and the Trump administration have attempted to overthrow the ban and reintroduce the threat of extraction into this irreplaceable landscape.
To provide permanent protections for one of our nation’s most iconic landscapes, this bill builds upon the existing protections by making the mineral withdrawal permanent. The bill formally removes the moratorium area from the jurisdiction of the Mining Law of 1872 and the Mineral Leasing Act – barring new claims for locatable minerals such as uranium and precious metals, and new leases for leasable materials such as oil and coal. Although existing claims inside the moratorium area will remain, owners must perform a validity determination to keep them, requiring a demonstration that their claim contains extractable mineral deposits in a concentration that can be mined profitably.
What's the Environmental Impact?
Uranium mining has left a toxic legacy in the Grand Canyon region, polluting soils, aquifers, and drinking water. Numerous abandoned uranium mines still litter the region, with over 500 mines on the Navajo Nation alone.
On October 2, 2019, Chair Grijalva hosted a forum with Navajo uranium miners in Northern Arizona to learn more about the impacts that uranium mining has had on the Navajo Nation. At the forum, the former miners on the panel spoke of the serious illnesses among former miners and community members as well as the need for additional clean-up activities at mining areas.
To prevent new mining interests from further degrading the landscape and threating local communities, the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act will ban new mining claims on approximately 1 million acres around Grand Canyon National Park. By permanently withdrawing the moratorium area from new mineral claims, Chair Grijalva’s proposal will protect many of Northern Arizona’s most sacred Native American sites, ecologically sensitive areas, and the Colorado River watershed, which supplies drinking water for nearly 40 million people.[WL2]
Is This Good for the Economy?
The Grand Canyon National Park is a key driver of the regional economy, and increased pollution in the watershed risks rural livelihoods. In 2017, the Grand Canyon National Park employed 382 people and supported an additional 9,420 jobs in gateway communities, 7,222 of them directly supported by the park. In comparison, an economic analysis estimated that if the Grand Canyon moratorium did not exist, the uranium-mining industry could potentially support 636 jobs in the region.
Beyond job creation, visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park contributed $938 million to gateway economies in 2017 and helped generate $160 million in local and state tax revenue in 2016. On the other hand, an economic analysis conducted prior to the mining ban estimated that uranium mining would only generate approximately $22.9 million annually for federal, state, and local governments. The study also found that the recoverable uranium resources would likely be exhausted within a 20-year period.
Do Tribes Support the Proposal?
Tribal leaders overwhelmingly support the Grijalva plan. You can read their resolutions and letters of support here.
You can also check out this article by Havasupai Councilwoman Carletta Tilousi about the impacts of uranium mining on her tribe.
Who Else Supports the Designation?
Members of the City Council of Flagstaff passed a resolution supporting Chair Grijalva’s proposal. Coconino County also passed a resolution[WL3] in support of a permanent mineral withdrawal surrounding the Grand Canyon.
A group of 20 faith leaders sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt urging them to support a continued ban on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. A coalition comprised of the National Congress of American Indians, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Grand Canyon Trust, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Haul No!, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and the Wildlands Network also sent Chair Grijalva a letter supporting the proposal.
You can find a spreadsheet of local supporters – including businesses, outdoor recreation companies, sportsmen’s groups, tribes, and local governments – here.
Is The Idea Popular With the Public?
A 2018 poll found that 78 percent of Arizona voters support a permanent ban on mining in order to protect Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River, with 96 percent saying that “keeping our public lands and waters healthy both benefits our economy and quality of life” in Arizona. This support is strong across political parties, demographic groups and geographical areas, with majority support in every major subgroup included in the poll. This support stems from a widespread belief that more needs to be done to protect the land, air and water around Grand Canyon National Park. Almost half (48%) say they would have a “more favorable” opinion of an elected official who supports continuing the ban.
Here is a video featuring Arizonans from all walks of life describing the need to protect the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims.
What Is the Media Saying About It?
The proposal has been supported in the Arizona Daily Star, the Washington Post and many other outlets. You can also check out this op-ed from Chair Grijalva urging Congress, and the American people, to support permanent protections for the Grand Canyon region.
Tribal leaders and communities across the region – joined by faith leaders and outdoors enthusiasts – support the permanent mineral withdraw. They all agree: It’s time to provide lasting protections for one of the crown jewels of our National Park System.
Promoting the Recreation Economy
- The real economic engine fueling many communities is the recreation economy. The Outdoor Industry Association's economic report estimates that outdoor recreation creates $646 billion in direct consumer spending and $80 billion in federal, state, and local taxes (bigger than the pharmaceutical or automobile industry). According to the National Park Service, the national park system also generates $10 of economic activity for every $1 invested.
- Responsible land management practices preserve public lands for future generations and have little to no impact on recreation opportunities. Annual recreation visits to National Parks have increased by more than 75,000,000 visits since 1979, a nearly 40% increase, according the National Park Service's 2014 annual visitation summary report.
- Committee Democrats support reauthorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). FLREA improves recreation and visitor services, keeping most fees on-site for improvements that visitor’s desire, and makes recreation sites more accessible. For example, FLREA establishes a single national pass that can be used across recreation sites managed by all four land management agencies.
Why Wilderness Matters
Wilderness benefits all Americans
Wilderness areas belong to all Americans and encompass some of our most breathtaking places: snow-capped mountains, giant redwoods, roaring rivers, and wildflower-filled deserts. The National Wilderness Preservation System also provides vital habitat to birds, animals, and plants. You might witness an endangered California condor soaring high above the San Rafael Wilderness in California, or catch a glimpse of an American alligator in the St. Marks Wilderness in Florida.
- Wildlife increases economic prosperity and quality of life. Beyond scenic beauty and homes to wildlife, wilderness areas provide places for people, too. Every year, millions of Americans camp, hike, ride horses, and hunt on lands within the National Wilderness Preservation System. During these visits, Americans:
- Spend $646 billion annually which supports 6.1 million American jobs in the Outdoor Industry, according to the 2012 Outdoor Recreation Economy report.
- Contribute to both local and national economies by contributing $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue, and $39.7 billion in state/local tax revenue.
- Increase employment, between 1970 and 2010 employment increased by 297% in rural counties in the West with land bases that are more than 20% protected federal land, and 345% in counties that are more than 30% protected lands, according to the Headwaters Economics 2012 report.
- Urban communities value greenery. As our society continues to urbanize, many communities place a greater value on having scenic backdrops to their homes and nearby open space for recreation. According to a recent study, private homes near parks, wilderness and other protected areas can have property values 20% higher than similar properties elsewhere. In addition, protecting lands as wilderness also helps maintain healthy, intact ecosystems that offer valuable services. Ecosystem services provide billions of dollars of benefits to the American people, from forests that clean the air we breathe and filter our drinking water, to wetlands that provide stormwater capture.
- Wilderness is a bipartisan tradition. Wilderness lands safeguard our nation's cultural heritage including Native American sacred sites and vestiges of early American history. Numerous wilderness areas including the Gila wilderness in New Mexico contain Native American petroglyphs and other areas of significance.
- Wilderness is a special designation reserved for our wildest lands. Only Congress can designate wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act of 1964. When a new wilderness bill is passed, the lands are protected in perpetuity for current and future generations. Wilderness is considered the strongest kind of protection that federal public lands can receive because it protects lands from development, new mining claims, and mechanized uses while continuing to allow hiking, camping, hunting, and horse-back riding. Wilderness is also considered the most durable land protection because once designated, Congress has never de-designated it (except to make a technical boundary correction).
- There’s more wilderness out there…and it’s being held hostage. Unfortunately, in recent years, the bipartisan tradition of wilderness has begun to disintegrate. Despite broad local support, wilderness bills have been largely snubbed under the Republican-controlled Congress. Although a handful of wilderness bills were passed at the end of 2014, the last time a comprehensive land conservation package passed was in 2009. Many wilderness bills that have been languishing for sometimes more than a decade have never even been granted a hearing. Recent requests for wilderness hearings have been outright denied by the Majority. Each of these bills would add much needed protections to unique wild lands around the country, and each of these bills has a cadre of local citizens and supporters who are calling for it to pass.
With climate change and the increasing urbanization of our communities, it is more important than ever that we set aside wild areas for future generations to enjoy. Wilderness is an idea broadly supported by Americans. The results of a national survey indicate that protecting air quality, water quality, wildlife habitat, unique wild plant and animal species, and being able to pass wilderness on to future generations are all consistently rated as the top five most important benefits of protected federal lands. According to the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, two-thirds of Western voters believe the current laws protecting land, air, and water should be strengthened, or at least better enforced.
Addressing Wildfire and Forest Health
Wildfires and Climate Change
The increase in the severity and frequency of wildfires is driven by climate change. Since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986, according to an Oregon State University study. A similarly sharp increase in temperature and wildfire activity has been reported in Canada during the same period.
Source: Climate Central, “The Age of Western Wildfires 2012 Report”
- Since 1970, the wildfire season in the western United States has increased by 78 days and the average burn duration of large fires has increased from 7.5 to 37.1 days, according to a study. This increased wildfire trend correlates with an increase in spring and summer temperatures by ~0.9°C and a 1- to 4- week earlier melting of mountain snowpack.
- In 2012, a White House report stated that wildfires burned 9.2 million acres across eight states, reducing air quality, damaging property and costing more than $1 billion.
- The cost of fire suppression and mitigation is the main challenge faced by federal and state agencies battling wildfires. According to a Headwater Economics report, the cost of wildfire protection has more than doubled in the past 15 years, and over 50% of the budget for the US Forest Service is consumed by firefighting.
- Currently, 1% of wildland fires, which are considered catastrophic, are responsible for 30% of the Forest Service’s fire suppression costs. The remaining 70% of suppression costs are generated by the other 99% of fires. In order to address the costs associated with the one percent of fires, the FY 2016 President’s Budget proposes a Fire Suppression Cap Adjustment which would treat catastrophic wildland fires as disasters, and fund their suppression costs outside of the discretionary budget appropriation of the Forest Service. Under the proposed cap adjustment, $855 million would be available to meet suppression costs above the base appropriation. The Fire Suppression Cap Adjustment funds would be accessed by a Secretarial declaration of need and an imminent end of the appropriated discretionary funds.
- With the number of wildfires projected to double in areas of the West by 2050, the cost of battling wildfires will continue to increase. Currently, 1% of wildland fires, which are considered catastrophic, are responsible for 30% of the Forest Service’s fire suppression costs. The remaining 70% of suppression costs are generated by the other 99% of fires. The costs of these large fires often forces the Interior and Agriculture Departments to transfer money from non-suppression. Known as “fire borrowing” or fire transfers”, this activity draws money away for programs intended to reduce the risk of large, catastrophic wildfire risk. Congress must address how we pay for wildfire suppression in order to safeguard accounts meant to improve forest health and mitigate wildfire risk.
- The Stewardship Contracting and Good Neighbor Authorities are critical land management tools that not only improve the health of our forests and reduce the threat of wildfire, but also support our local economies and create jobs for our communities. Democrats supported the permanent reauthorization of both programs in the Farm Bill.
- Committee Democrats support the Collaborative Landscape Restoration Program, which facilitates the reduction of wildfire management costs by reestablishing natural fire regimes and reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire.
- Committee Democrats support President Obama’s proposal to modify the funding strategy for wildfire suppression. In order to address rising costs of wildfire, the FY 2016 President’s Budget proposes funding wildfire suppression at 70 percent of the 10-year average of fire suppression costs. Additionally, the proposal recommends Disaster Cap Adjustment of up to $855 million to address funding needs above the initial allocation. The disaster cap adjustment would allow Congress to provide funding to address bigger than average wildfire seasons through supplemental appropriations that are not subject to discretionary spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Established in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was the culmination of a bipartisan effort to protect and enhance our nation’s irreplaceable lands and outdoor recreation opportunities. The vision was simple—to reinvest a portion of energy revenues from offshore oil and gas into conservation of our land, water and recreation resources. LWCF provides outdoor recreational opportunities and landscape-level conservation at the local, state, and federal levels through a trust fund comprised of revenue from
- Receipts oil and gas leases from the Outer Continental Shell (amended 1968, P.L. 90-401)
- Surplus Property Sales
- Motorboat Fuels Tax
LWCF has protected more than 5 million acres and strengthens the ability of land management agencies to manage and provide access to federal, state, and local lands. Congress can appropriate up to $900 million annually from the receipts to fund the account. That has only occurred twice.
LWCF is already paid for
LWCF is the principal source of funds for federal land acquisition by the four land management agencies. (Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wild Life Service, and National Park Service) Portions or all of many of the nation’s parks, landscapes, and forests were acquired via LWCF.
Since funding for LWCF comes primarily from energy revenues, no monies come out of the federal budget. It is Congress’ responsibility to appropriate the funds annually. Over the past 50 years, LWCF has provided over $17.1 billion toward outdoor recreation planning, state and federal lands and waters acquisition; state recreational facilities; and other purposes. There has been $37.1 billion credited to LWCF, leaving an unappropriated balance of $20 billion in the fund.
LWCF encourages recreation close to home
The fund’s 42,000 grants to the states totaling almost $4 billion have supported protection of three million acres of recreation lands and over 29,000 recreation facility projects, driven by local priorities and matched with local dollars, to provide close-to-home recreation opportunities, such as playgrounds, hiking trails, and green space, for all Americans
- Traditional State Grants—provides matching grants to the states, DC, and the territories for recreation planning, acquisition of lands and waters, and facilities development
- Competitive State Grants—provide recreation grants for land acquisition and development in densely settled areas (population > 50,000)
- Mandatory Appropriations—12.5% of revenues from certain OCS leasing in the Gulf of Mexico (GOMESA), shared among Gulf producing states and LWCF for coastal restoration projects
LWCF encourages public-private investment
The State Assistance Program has issued over $3 billion in grants and leveraged over $7 billion in non-federal matching funds.
LWCF has enjoyed bi-partisan support
A poll indicates that 88% of voters support continuing to set aside offshore oil and gas drilling fees into the LWCF and 85% of Americans want LWCF to be fully funded.