Oklahoma Farm Bureau submitted comments to the National Park Service regarding the Chisholm and Great Western National Historic Trails Feasibility Study and Draft Environmental Assessment. OKFB is concerned with the planning and implementation of the proposed national historic trail and the potential impacts for landowners and agriculture as well as the overall potential cost.
We have included below Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s comments on the draft, which outline in detail OKFB’s grassroots-developed policy, our concerns with the feasibility study and the overall proposal. We have also made available a PDF of these comments in their original format.
March 13, 2015
Ms. Gretchen Ward
Chief of Planning
National Trails Intermountain Region
National Park Service
PO Box 728
Santa Fe, NM 87504
Re: Chisholm and Great Western National Historic Trails Feasibility Study and Draft Environmental Assessment, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas
Dear Ms. Ward,
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau (OKFB) is pleased to submit these comments on behalf of the OKFB, a general farm organization with about 100,000 member families, and the voice of agriculture in Oklahoma. OKFB represents farmers and ranchers with operations of all sizes who raise a wide variety of crops and livestock. OKFB is a true grassroots organization, with members in all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. OKFB derives its policy positions directly from its members. The protection of private property rights is a cornerstone of the organization.
The Chisholm and Great Western National Historic Trails Feasibility Study and Draft Environmental Assessment, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas1, hereinafter referred to as the “Plan”, is the only publication referenced in these comments. OKFB strongly advocates for Alternative A – No Action (Continuation of Existing Policies and Authorities) (iv).
As mentioned in our first paragraph, OKFB derives its policy positions from its members. Those policy positions relevant to public trails and associated activities, are as follows:
We oppose any net increase in government ownership of real estate. We oppose the acquisition of large tracts being acquired by private funds for the purpose of donating or selling it to a government agency.
We oppose the use of public moneys for the purchase of private lands…that would be used as hiking trails, public access roads, or wilderness areas, as well as private non-profit groups to acquire control of untold thousands of acres of farm and ranch land for wildlife preservation and/or outdoor recreation.
Fences on government land need to be maintained by the government. Agencies developing…recreational areas should be required to maintain fences and exhaust all efforts to ensure that privately owned property is not subject to trespassing or vandalism.
We support requiring the government agency involved in cases where federal and private lands are included in a national historic trail to define the boundaries between these lands.
We support stringent enforcement of trespass law along all national historical trails.
We oppose the establishment of national landmarks on private lands without landowner consent.
We support protection of adjoining landowners by providing adequate fencing and protection from liability issues related to the use of such facilities in cases where recreational trails are established.
OKFB members have specific concerns about the proposal to designate the Chisholm and the Great Western as National Historic Trails. Following are our specific comments.
Generally, it appears the Plan has concluded that there is “nearly universal support” (iii) for the trail designation. It is easy to see how one could reach that conclusion based upon the groups represented at the scoping meeting in Oklahoma, or rather those who were not represented. In the three meetings held in Oklahoma, there was no one in attendance representing an agricultural, ranching or property rights organization (145-146).
The Plan states, “Interested members of the public, government agencies, and American Indian tribes were all notified of the study and were invited to participate in the planning process by providing any input, information and/or comments that they had about the feasibility study” (133). None of the Farm Bureau organizations from any of the affected states were listed as organizations or associations receiving notification (136) of the Plan.
Indeed, in spite of the notifications made to trail advocacy groups, it appears there was no special effort to reach out to any Farm Bureaus or Cattlemen’s Associations in any of the affected states, despite the fact that the Plan admits the “major use of the lands through which the cattle trail routes pass is private or agricultural” (27). Also, the Plan states, “There is a very small portion of state-owned lands within these states, ranging from…to 1% in Oklahoma” (85). We object to the lack of notification about the Plan. In Oklahoma, Farm Bureau is recognized as representing more ranchers, who are private property owners, than any other agricultural organization. To our knowledge, no OKFB leaders or staff were aware of or attended any of the scoping meetings.
OKFB has concerns about the preliminary and ongoing costs of the trail. The Plan states, “The development of such a plan would cost between $500,000 and $800,000” (24). Also the Plan says it will cost “within a range of $350,000 to $500,000 annually” for “one to two full-time equivalents (FTE) staff positions, with trail administrative duties” (24). Just the cost of the “inventory of the routes for high potential sites and segments could cost upwards of $4,000,000. The cost of these inventories likely be borne by the landowner/manager” (25).
As a fiscally conservative organization, OKFB generally is opposed to any growth in the federal government and therefore opposes this growth of the National Park Service.
The need for the Plan is questionable when there are individuals and communities within the affected states which are promoting the trail today. The Plan admits, “Already there are hundreds of markers, and many interpretive exhibits, marking the route or the vicinity of both the Chisholm and Western Trails” (23). And “Much of the trail is accessible from public rights-of-way, and major interpretive locations are on existing state lands or at publicly accessible museums and visitor centers” (24).
The Plan says there is a National Park Service Director’s Order requirement that “an environmental assessment identify an environmentally preferable alternative” (51) that “will promote the national environmental policy as expressed in the National Environmental Policy Act’s section 101” (52). The Plan states, “Ordinarily, this means the alternative that cause the least damage to the biological and physical environment; it also means the alternative which best protects, preserves, and enhances historic, cultural, and natural resources” (52).
Of Alternative A, the No Action Alternative, the Plan says “This alternative, therefore does not fully meet criteria 1-6 as described above” (52). In contrast, the Plan says “Alternative B is the environmentally preferable alternative because it meets criteria 1-6….It provides the greatest degree of resource protection” (52). These statements are yet another appalling example of the federal government believing it is more protective of the natural resources of private property, in this case, agricultural farm and ranch land, than are the owners of that private property. That statement is an affront to farmers and ranchers who take care of the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.
Under the Environmental Consequences section it states, “Future actions must be preceded by site-specific compliance and consultations with the Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, tribal and state historic preservation officers, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, concerned Indian tribes, and other state and federal agencies” (111). One–OKFB opposes any historic trail designation without a complete and thorough understanding of the exact requirements of compliance plans. Two–OKFB opposes multiple agency consultations about trails which are almost exclusively on private property. Three–OKFB opposes multiple agency consultations that do not include private citizens. We oppose consultations in general, but should they occur, agricultural organizations should be a formal party to them. Consultations should be a transparent process.
Again, OKFB supports Alternative A, the No Action Alternative. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Tom Buchanan, President
Marla R. Peek, Director of Regulatory Affairs