U.S. Department of Interior Listening Session
Brewer, Maine – September 20th, 2006
Testimony of Alexander Brash,
Northeast Regional Director, NPCA
Mr. Secretary, I am Alexander Brash, the Northeast Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. I am pleased to be here today, and foremost would like to thank you for coming to listen to all of us. Secondly, on behalf of NPCA’s 320,000 members I want to thank you for the excellent job Interior has done, under your leadership, to finalize strong Management Policies for the National Park Service.
Further, and particularly from those of us in the northeast, I wish to thank you for your choice of Mary Bomar as our next Director of the National Park Service. I personally have already had the distinct pleasure of working with her, and not only is she a solid park professional, but in our interactions she has shown herself to be straightforward, honest and a stalwart steward.
With respect to Cooperative Conservation we believe:
If the National Parks were not suffering from an annual shortfall in excess of $800 million, the communities bordering or depending upon the parks would be better off, our citizens who visit them would appreciate them more, and the very icons they protect – both natural and cultural – would assured for our children’s children.
We believe that Cooperative conservation should mean that the Park Service does listen to and interact thoughtfully with those around each park, but also that those surrounding industries, communities and other good neighbors should reciprocally consider carefully how their actions will affect the parks. New roads, homes and infrastructure for energy demands; zoning decisions, and all other such projects developed by state and local governments have enormous impacts on our national parks.
As you know, parks are no longer independent within their great landscapes. Park are now increasingly isolated fragments in an ever closing circle of human demands.
NPCA recognizes the importance of strong federal, state, local, and community cooperation in the landscape in and around our national parks. Barrier islands do need their sand replenished, farmers need water, and timber must be harvested. For without newspapers how will we know what you are doing? But all these, and other things can and must be accomplished in a way to replicate and support natural ecosystem functions. We believe that strong environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air Act are critical to protecting our national parks, And park managers must be less fettered in their efforts to cooperatively uphold these laws, for Cooperative Conservation should not trade the ‘unimpaired parks of future generations’ for friendships today.
While there are a great many parks and park needs here in the northeast, I have time to mention but two:
Gateway National Park in New York City was created in 1972 specifically to serve as a recreational outlet for the region’s residents. Carved from a conglomeration of several abandoned airfields, army bases, and large chunks of city land, the park encompasses 26,000 acres and is the same size as the entire New York City parks system. While Gateway has great potential, it has unfortunately been captured in a quagmire of inaction, and the facilities have remained essentially untouched after three decades.
Nearly 150 years ago, other New Yorkers called for a public park wherein they might enjoy nature and undertake recreational activities. After a spirited competition, a design prepared by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won, and Central Park was born. Since then design competitions have spread across the land and now around the world. NPCA, Columbia University and other partners will soon be bringing one to Gateway, and in the spirit of cooperative conservation we ask that you officially join us as a partner in this endeavor.
Nearby, Acadia is unique among national parks in how intertwined it is with local communities. Created mostly out of land donations, it remains peppered with over 150 private in-holdings. Since its establishment, millions of dollars have been authorized for the acquisition of the remaining privately-held parcels of land inside the Park, but the primary source of funding for these acquisitions is the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This fund is starving and needs the Administration’s support, and the actual use of this fund to purchase land to protect or create new national parks needs strong and wise leadership. We hope it will be yours.
Finally, we are thrilled with your recently announced National Park Centennial Challenge and its potential to provide significant new help for our parks. We hope that in due course help will come from everyone here today, and others all across the land. We recognize that help takes many forms and can be financial, political, or simply volunteerism. In NPCA we believe that if your good agency builds the momentum within the Administration to bring parks to the funding level they need, NPCA stands ready to work with you and help build the Congressional and local political will necessary to complement your efforts. We also strongly believe that when that occurs, parks friends groups like the Friends of Acadia here, will rise across the land, and once assured that their funding will augment federal funds and not replace them. In New York City private philanthropy provides roughly 17% of the city’s parks support, and we should all cooperatively work together in order to surpass that so that we may restore the faded glory of our national parks.