Statement for the Record
Michael B. Murray
Chair of the Executive Council, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks Subcommittee on Federal Lands, Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
Hearing on H.R. 3025, to provide for no net increase in the total acreage of Federal land in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, United States Virgin Islands

June 22, 2023

Chairman Westerman, Ranking Member Grijalva, and members of the Committee, I am Michael B. (Mike) Murray, Chair of the Executive Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). The Coalition is a non-profit organization composed of more than 2,400 retired, former, and current employees of the National Park Service (NPS) who collectively have over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting our national parks. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. We appreciate the opportunity to present this statement for the record on H.R. 3025, to provide for no net increase in the total acreage of Federal land in the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John United States Virgin Islands.

The Coalition strongly opposes H.R. 3025, which would restrict the NPS from acquiring any additional acreage within the congressional authorized boundary of Virgin Islands National Park (Park) without conveying out of federal ownership an equal amount of acreage not later than one year later. The Coalition knows of no other unit of the National Park System that has similar acreage restrictions placed on lands within its congressional designated boundary and is very concerned about the precedent such an ownership restriction would create.

When Congress establishes a new national park, it authorizes an exterior boundary for the park. There are many times when privately owned lands remain within the exterior boundary with the expectation that, over time, these lands may be acquired by the NPS for management. Sometimes the lands within these boundaries also include deed restrictions, reversionary clauses, or various easements. Management of these privately owned lands impose additional work on the NPS staff to ensure the use of those lands is consistent with any noted restrictions and that their use will not adversely impact adjoining park natural and cultural resources.

In the case of the original acreage that was donated to establish Virgin Islands National Park, we understand from the NPS that because of the origin of the initial donation and the complexity of the ownership, this legislation would be very difficult to implement at the park.

Further, the requirement in H.R. 3025 for the price of an equal amount of land to be conveyed out of federal ownership be reduced by 10 percent for each month that the land remains unsold also sets a terrible precedent by encouraging potential buyers to wait for a better price on the land. National parks are not created to encourage real estate transactions for private buyers.

Missing entirely from this legislation is a recognition of the natural, cultural, or historical resources and their protection by the NPS for which the park was first created in 1956. This includes the coral reefs, beaches and waters, early native Americans sites, along with the remains of Danish colonial sugar plantations. These resources were set aside for the American people to ensure their enjoyment and protection for future generations and for which over 300,000 individuals visit, learn from, and experience each year. This is the mission of the National Park Service as authorized by Congress and the reason these specific resources were established as the Virgin Islands National Park.

We certainly understand that the people of the Virgin Islands have unique needs. The sponsor of the legislation mentioned a housing shortage as one of them. Additionally, the islands experienced severe devastation over the past few years due to hurricanes Irma and Maria, including the destruction of the local public school on St. John. The government of the islands has been working with the Department of the Interior to exchange land to help address the issue of the school and we hope that a final agreement can be reached. This type of discussion and agreement is a much better way to address current needs of the people of the islands rather than the model being proposed through H.R. 3025. We urge the committee to be supportive of those collaborative efforts between the department and the government of the Virgin Islands rather than moving ahead with the poor precedent that would be created by H.R. 3025.

Thank you for your consideration of the Coalition’s views on this legislation.