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National Landscape Conservation System Act

Location: Washington, DC

NATIONAL LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION SYSTEM ACT -- (House of Representatives - April 09, 2008)


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, almost 9 years ago, the Department of the Interior proposed designating Steens Mountain in Harney County, Oregon, as a national monument. This designation would have harmed the cooperative management and preservation successes on the mountain and would have choked the local ranching way of life while allowing little public input into the management process.

So I met with the people of Harney County out at Frenchglen, and we challenged then-Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt to let us attempt to write a plan, rather than suffer the consequences of a top-down Federal designation. That would have been a way that would not only preserve the ecological treasure of Steens Mountain but also the way of life out in that part of Oregon.

To his credit, Secretary Babbitt allowed for our request. He gave us a shot at coming up with something better, and the residents of Harney County rolled up their sleeves and we all went to work.

This effort produced an historic bipartisan, legislative success. Working with State and Federal officials, representatives from the environmental community, my colleagues in the Oregon congressional delegation, the governor and others, we crafted a unique piece of legislation that not only satisfied the environmental concerns, or ``lands legacy'' initiative, of the Clinton administration but also allowed for a way of life to continue on the mountain that has existed for more than 100 years since the first settlers started arriving in this rugged part of the West in the 1800s.

Moreover, the bipartisan legislation established an historic agreement between conservation groups and the local ranching community, implemented a unique cooperative management system with oversight by a citizens' advisory council, and among many other things, designated the first grazing-free, cow-free wilderness.

The bill was crafted with so much local and bipartisan support that it was approved by the House on voice vote and unanimously by the United States Senate. In the years since, management principles in that legislation have proven that they can work; although it has not always been easy.

Unfortunately, many in Harney County who have dedicated much to the successful implementation of the Steens Act worry that Washington, D.C., again may derail the very specific purposes and objectives laid out in that Act. Without consulting the formally recognized stakeholder groups in the region, I'm concerned the underlying legislation would include the Steens in the National Landscape Conservation System.

Given my experience in creating the historic Steens Act, I understand the delicate balance between providing additional protection for deserving areas, while also ensuring the opportunities for other, historic uses. That is why I drafted the amendment today to strike the reference of the Steens Act from H.R. 2016, the National Landscape Conservation System Act.

The problem is simple. The Steens already has a set of strongly supported, congressionally mandated management purposes and objectives from the 106th Congress. I'm concerned that the Steens Act, specifically noted in this legislation, would give the Steens a duplicative set of management principles that would prove to be bait for unproductive lawsuits.

I certainly don't want clauses in H.R. 2016 to be used to upend the delicate balance all parties, including conservation and ranching groups, achieved with the writing and passage of the Steens Act.

So, Mr. Chairman, if I might engage in a colloquy, can you assure me and the good people in Harney County that your bill, H.R. 2016, if it becomes law, will not in any way supersede, undermine, or be used as a reason to change any of the purposes established in section 1(b) or the objectives established in section 102(b) of the Steens Act, Public Law 106-399.

I yield to my colleague from Arizona.


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