February 5, 2007

Greenwire

PUBLIC LANDS: Grijalva promises new agenda for parks, forests, lands subcommittee

Dan Berman


Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva will be busy this year. As the chairman of the new National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, Grijalva will lead a panel that oversees the Interior Department's public lands agencies as well as the Forest Service. The subcommittee's broad jurisdiction means members and staff will have to sift through hundreds of bills ranging from new national parks in their states, land exchanges, grazing permits, wilderness designations and energy development on public lands. Grijalva is also committed to aggressive oversight of the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service under the Bush administration.

In an interview with E&E Daily, Grijalva said he and his staff are confident and up to the challenge. "They've been in purgatory for 12 years," Grijalva said. "There's an expectation level that's very high and a reality that we're going to have to deal with."

When the subcommittee gets rolling, it will examine the Bush administration's fiscal 2008 budget request, with particular attention to operations, staffing and maintenance.

"The maintenance and upkeep of our public lands and public parks that has not been taken care of in the last six to seven years," Grijavla said, pledging to use the hearing process to "formulate real policies and laws about preservation about public lands.

"I'm not a supporter of opening public lands for commercial development interests," Grijalva added. "The fact we've renamed the committee Natural Resources again shows it's not just for resource extraction, it's for preservation and conservation as well."

The new chairman does not expect to automatically sign off on bills such as small land exchanges involving federal property, saying they will be examined to weigh the public and private interest.

"I'm not an automatic on land trades," he said. "My experience is sometimes it's been out of whack where the public good of land trade hasn't been commensurate with the private gain of a land trade."

Expect more activity when it comes to designating wilderness areas than under the GOP-led Resources Committee. Grijalva promised more wilderness bills will "see the light of day" under himself and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.). He also wants answers on the Interior Department's moratorium on recommending future wilderness designations from a 2003 court settlement.

Grijalva pledged to "re-examine" President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative and explore the connection between climate change and Western wildfires.

The subcommittee will also examine the entire Western grazing program. Grijalva has previously sponsored legislation that would compensate ranchers who voluntarily give up their grazing rights, and said he won't shy away from the debate.

"In the West, it's a huge political battle," Grijalva said, adding that all options are open, including buyout plans and limiting grazing permits. "I feel we should talk about them openly and not be reluctant to bring them to the table."