STATEMENT OF SENATOR DIRK KEMPTHORNE
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
HEARING ON THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE SYSTEM IMPROVEMENT ACT
July 30, 1997

I want to applaud the Chairman for moving so quickly on the Wildlife Refuges bill (S. 1059). It is indeed a testament to the importance of this legislation that the Committee is holding this hearing today less than one week after the Chairman's bill was introduced in the Senate.

There has been a great deal of interest in this legislation and in moving it quickly. The original House bill was negotiated between Chairman Don Young and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Their efforts to work together to develop a consensus bill show once again that we can improve our environmental laws and make them work better for people too. Chairman Young and Secretary Babbitt deserve a great deal of credit for getting this difficult issue to the point where it is today.

The bill that Senator Chafee has introduced, along with myself and Senator Graham, is based largely on Chairman Young's work, although it does make a few changes. One of those changes was particularly important to my State of Idaho.

When we reviewed the House bill, we discovered an internal ambiguity in the bill which could have been taken advantage of by those who might want to eliminate many legitimate uses of wildlife refuges. My concern was that the bill's exclusive focus on so-called "wildlife-dependent" activities might be interpreted down the road as a signal that Congress intended only for these kinds of activities to qualify as potentially compatible activities on Federal wildlife refuges and that the many other uses of refuges that can now be authorized if they are compatible with the purposes of a refuge would be left out.

That would be a significant problem. Under the law now, our National Wildlife Refuges support many uses, including wildlife-dependent uses such as hunting and fishing, but also important non-wildlife-dependent uses, like grazing, oil and gas production, electricity transmission, and even family picnics and weddings. Under the House bill, any one of these activities arguably could have been eliminated on Federal refuges simply because they are not "wildlife-dependent" activities.

In Idaho, for example, ranchers who were once promised that they would retain the right to graze their cattle on the Gray's Lake Refuge might have lost that right because an individual refuge manager, already hostile to grazing, interpreted the House language to preclude grazing as a compatible use. This is an important issue for my State because grazing occurs in four of the five Idaho refuges.

So, I have included language in our bill to ensure that livestock grazing and other legitimate activities on refuges can continue to be considered compatible uses on a wildlife refuge.

With that change, I am pleased to be a cosponsor of this bill. For the first time, it will establish hunting and fishing as priority uses on wildlife refuges and will ensure that other legitimate and compatible uses can continue in the future. Of particular interest and importance to me, to Idaho and to other Western States, is the provision in the bill that provides, "Nothing in this Act shall create a reserved water right, express or implied, in the United States for any purpose." I strongly support this provision now, as I have in the past.