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HEARING ON H.R. 2385, TO CONVEY CERTAIN PROPERTY TO THE CITY OF ST. GEORGE, UTAH, IN ORDER TO PROVIDE FOR THE PROTECTION AND PRESERVATION OF CERTAIN RARE PALEONTOLOGICAL RESOURCES ON THAT PROPERTY, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES; AND H.R. 2488, TO DESIGNATE CERTAIN LANDS IN THE PILOT RANGE IN THE STATE OF UTAH AS WILDERNESS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
Thursday, July 26, 2001
U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands Committee on Resources
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:01 p.m., in Room 1334, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Joel Hefley [Chairman of the Subcommittee] presiding.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOEL HEFLEY, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF COLORADO
Mr. HEFLEY. The Committee will come to order.
Good afternoon and welcome to the hearing today. This afternoon, the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands will hear testimony on two bills, H.R. 2385 and H.R. 2488. H.R. 2385, introduced by Chairman Hansen, would convey certain property to the City of St. George, Utah, in order to provide for the protection and preservation of certain rare paleontological resources and for other purposes. The other bill, H.R. 2385, also introduced by Chairman Hansen, would designate certain lands within the Pilot Mountain Range in the West Desert Region of the State of Utah as wilderness.
Mr. HEFLEY. Based on the submitted testimony, I suspect we have quite a discussion on this bill. I want to thank Chairman Hansen for introducing these bills, which are obviously very important not only to the people of the State of Utah but also to many throughout the United States. I would also like to thank the Chair
man for being here today as well as for all of our witnesses, and I look forward to today's testimony.
We do not have a ranking member present yet, but do you have a statement that you would like to make, or we will just save the statement until the ranking member arrives.
Statement of The Honorable Joel Hefley, Chairman, Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands, on H.R. 2385 and H.R. 2488
Good afternoon and welcome to the hearing today. This afternoon, the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands will hear testimony on two bills-H.R. 2385 and H.R. 2488.
H.R. 2385, introduced by Chairman Hansen, would convey certain property to the city of St. George, Utah, in order to provide for the protection and preservation of certain rare paleontological resources, and for other purposes.
The other bill, H.R. 2385, also introduced by Chairman Hansen, would designate certain lands within the Pilot Mountain Range in the west desert region of the State of Utah as wilderness. Based on the submitted testimony, I suspect we will have quite a discussion on this bill.
I want to thank Chairman Hansen for introducing these two bills, which are obviously very important not only to the people of the State of Utah, but also to many throughout the United States. I would also like to thank the Chairman for being here today as well as all of our witnesses. I look forward to today's testimony.
I now yield to the Ranking Member, Ms. Christensen for an opening statement.
Mr. HEFLEY. Mr. Hansen, do you have an opening statement you wanted to make?
Mr. HANSEN. Only if you would allow me to, Mr. Chairman. I would really appreciate it.
Mr. HEFLEY. All right; now, we will go to the witnesses.
Mr. HEFLEY. I have dreamed of doing that, Mr. Hansen. [Laughter.]
Mr. HANSEN. I can hardly wait until we are in full Committee. Mr. HEFLEY. That takes care of any of my legislation, does it not? [Laughter.]
Mr. HEFLEY. Chairman Hansen, would you proceed?
Oh, wait a minute. We now have our ranking member. Okay; she deferred to the Chairman.
STATEMENT OF HON. JAMES HANSEN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF UTAH
Mr. HANSEN. Well, I thank the gentlelady from the Virgin Islands and the Chairman for allowing me to say a few words. We have two pieces of legislation today. I would like to speak to the first one, which is one of the most unique things that I think I have seen for an awfully long time. Dr. Johnson and his wife are with us; Mayor McArthur is with us from St. George. The Doctor is a retired optometrist and had some property out east of town and was moving some property. He will tell you about it more than I could, but it is a very fascinating story.
And I guess it was a front loader, and he turned something over, and what you see in front of you are these tracks that were there. Out of that, surprisingly enough, it has created a tremendous interest. There have been people from a number of countries who have come to see this. Paleontologists have come from all over the world, and it is probably one of the most amazing dinosaur tracks we have seen for an awfully long time.
We are trying to think of a way to do this, expedite it and without having further deterioration come to it. What worries a lot of us is the deterioration you can see which is kind of a problem, because you see it is raised, and wind and rain and other things create problems for this. And so, we are trying to work out a deal with the Doctor and his wife and the Mayor and the City of St. George to come up with a way to have the Federal Government help out on something that is very unique and probably much more unique than many of the parks and monuments that we have, so much more unique than the Grand Staircase-Escalante, it is unbelievable, if I may put that in, which to me was kind of a problem that they encountered.
The interesting thing about this is that we are preserving a resource for people from all over the world, basically, to see something that they could not see, and I think something is wrong with America if we miss out on an opportunity such as this. I notice some people are criticizing this. Of course, there is nothing around here that is not criticized, but using legislation passed last Congress as a model, this bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to purchase up to 20 acres of land where the footprints and tail dragging were found and convey this property to the City of St. George. The city will then work with the property owners, Washington County and a nonprofit entity to preserve the resources in question and keep them open to the public.
The Secretary of the Interior would be a participant in a cooperative agreement with the city and provide assistance to help further the protection of the resource. I have noticed some people who have said, well, we do not buy parks and give them to cities. I think we are hardly doing that, but in response to that statement, I challenge anyone to identify another property of equal scientific value within the city limits of any community anywhere in this country. Just show me a piece of property that has 150,000 visitors from 54 countries in 18 months charging no admission. I would dare say that they have probably had more participation on this particular thing than the whole Grand Staircase-Escalante of 1.7 million acres that has been there since September 1996. Of course, it is only sagebrush, so I guess that is understandable.
If profit were a motive, I think the Johnson family could have bailed out of this a long time ago. But they are good Americans who want the public to enjoy it. So that, with the Mayor and others, having the financial little bit of help we can do them, I think we can have a very good thing that would come about for all of the people in Utah, America, and around the world who have come to this.
I do not know, Mayor, how you are going to do this with all the kind of visitation I think you are going to have over this thing, but I hope it works out, because I think all of a sudden that the interest, as I have seen it-I was there right after the Doctor had the first one—and from that point to this point, you have got a traffic jam in there just of yellow school buses with people there bringing kids to see it.
So it is quite a find, and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to have a word with you regarding this first piece of legislation. Would you like the second piece now, or would you like to wait?
Mr. HEFLEY. Well, I would prefer waiting on this, Mr. Chairman. [The prepared statement of Mr. Hansen follows:]
Statement of The Honorable James V. Hansen, Chairman, Committee on Resources, on H.R. 2385
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to welcome the witnesses from Utah this afternoon. I want to thank Mayor Dan MacArthur and Dr. Sheldon Johnson for coming to Washington to testify on this amazing scientific discovery in the community of St. George, Utah.
As we will hear today, Dr. Sheldon Johnson made an amazing discovery in February of last year while conducting site work on a piece of property he owned in St. George city. When the Navajo sandstone blocks were overturned, there in the stone were dinosaur tracks-not imprints, but bumps and taildraggings of unprecedented quality. These paleontological discoveries have been touted by scientists as some of the most amazing ever discovered. The clarity and completeness of the imprints are unparalleled as is the access to the prints by the public.
Since that time more than 150,000 people from all 50 states and at least 54 foreign countries have visited the site. This attention was welcomed and overwhelming at the same time. There are no visitor facilities nor means to protect the imprints that are exposed to the elements and traffic and congestion is becoming a serious problem for the owners and the city of St. George, Utah.
In addition to the logistical problems caused by this discovery, the preservation of these valuable resources is now in jeopardy. The fragile sandstone prints are highly susceptible to the heat and wind of the southern Utah climate. Some of the discoveries have already been lost to erosion and exposure. Fortunately, the decision was made not to turn over any more blocks until a way to protect the resource has been established. That is when I was made aware of the needs to provide some type of protection to the resource.
To their credit, the community in St. George has stepped up to do what they can to help. A makeshift shelter was constructed over many of the exposed imprints to provide some type of temporary protection. Volunteers were recruited, but even then, the community is still in need of assistance.
These resources are of great value to the entire world and I believe there is a legitimate role for Congress and the Administration in protecting this resource.
Early on, we discussed the possibility that this site might be worthy of National Monument designation. When I mentioned that we should introduce legislation to at least get the ball rolling, there was tremendous response from both the local community, the State of Utah and the scientific community about this bill.
Using legislation passed last Congress as a model, this bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to purchase up to 20 acres of land where the footprints and taildraggings are found, and convey the property to the city of St. George, where the City will then work with the property owners, Washington County and the nonprofit entity preserve the resources in question and keep them open to the public. The Secretary of the Interior would be a participant in a cooperative agreement with the city and provide assistance to help further the protection of the resources. I know that the Administration has some concerns with the language and I look forward to working with them to resolve any remaining concerns.
I was disappointed to read where one critic of the bill, insinuated that this is some type of government giveaway. This person stated: "We don't buy parks and give them to cities."
In response, I challenge that person to identify another property of equal scientific value laying within the city limits of any community anywhere in the country. Show me another piece of private property that has had 150,000 visitors from 54 countries in 18 months, charging no admission fee. If profit was really a motive, the Johnson family could have sold the prints and tracks to private collectors and made millions in the process. Instead, they are looking to give back to their community, but lack the financial resources to do so. To the city leader's credit, they also recognize the value of the resource to the community and the nation. They have come to the table as a partner and are willing to commit their resources to protect these amazing tracts. This is a partnership that will ultimately benefit all of us.
However, we must act quickly if these national treasures are to be saved. The American people deserve the chance to see them and the scientific community deserves to be able to study and learn from them as well. That will only occur if we move now to protect the resources. I hope my colleagues will support this bill and I look forward to the witnesses' testimonies today.
STATEMENT OF HON. DONNA CHRISTENSEN, A DELEGATE IN CONGRESS FROM THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Mrs. CHRISTENSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I apologize for being late. I had to come back over from Dirksen.
Today, the Subcommittee is going to receive testimony on two unrelated bills which deal with resources found within the State of Utah. Our first bill, as you heard from, I am sure, the chair but also chair of the entire Committee, H.R. 2385, requires the Secretary of the Interior to buy up to 20 acres and give this property to the City of St. George, Utah. The private property in question contains dinosaur tracks that were discovered last year. The requirement to buy the site and give the land to the city is highly unusual.
This legislation constitutes an appropriation requiring the Secretary to take funds appropriated for other purposes and spend them on this land acquisition.
While our second bill, H.R. 2488, deals with a specific wilderness in Utah, this is not a new issue for our Subcommittee. The Pilot Range Wilderness and the management language of H.R. 2488 were part of H.R. 3035, a bill considered by the Subcommittee last Congress. That legislation, especially its management language, was controversial, and the Subcommittee eventually failed to act on that bill.
Mr. Chairman, the bills before us today raise a number of issues that we would want to carefully consider. We appreciate the presence of our witnesses and our Chairman and look forward to their insights on the legislation before us. Thank you.
Mr. HEFLEY. Thank you. Let us go with our first panel: Mr. Tom Fulton, deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management for the Department of the Interior.
OF TOM FULTON,
SECRETARY FOR LAND AND MINERALS MANAGEMENT, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Mr. FULTON. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Christensen, Chairman Hansen, other members of the Committee. appreciate very much the opportunity to testify today in support of H.R. 2385, the Virgin River Dinosaur Footprint Preserve Act. The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to purchase and then convey to the City of St. George, Utah, certain property on which dinosaur tracks have recently been discovered.
The site involved is located on private property within the St. George city limits. Discovery of these tracks within the city is certainly locally unique, and they represent a potential focus for local interpretive efforts. The State of Utah has some of the most concentrated and significant paleontological resources of any region of the country. The administration supports H.R. 2385 with amendments to address, among other things, the following concerns.
The first is deadlines. We understand that if these tracks are to be protected, there is a degree of urgency. The bill includes schedules that reflect this urgency but do not allow enough time, in our