|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
|Date:||July 29, 2005|
|Contact:||Andrea Keller Helsel, NPCA, 202-454-3332|
National Park Struggles Continue Under New Budget
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) said that the fiscal year 2006 Interior Appropriations budget, expected to pass the U.S. House of Representatives tonight, reduces the total National Park Service budget by 3 percent. This cut would result in ad hoc development in and around national parks, and continued funding shortages in the parks.
“Congress deserves some credit for focusing on the parks’ chronic operating shortfalls, but the overall cut to the parks’ budget hinders the Park Service’s efforts to purchase and preserve lands, historic buildings, and wild spaces that are critical elements of America’s heritage,” said NPCA Vice President for Government Affairs Craig Obey. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that the national parks’ full needs will never be met unless Congress takes substantially bigger steps to fund the parks than they’ve been able to take in recent years.”
The fiscal year 2006 budget passed by Congress provides a total of $1.7 billion for the operating needs of the national parks -— a modest increase of $60.5 million over the previous year -— but NPCA’s recent report, Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America’s National Park Heritage, points out that the parks need an additional $600 million annually. This shortfall has resulted in fewer park rangers and fewer public education programs, dirty restrooms, unsafe trails, and poorly maintained campgrounds in parks across the country.
The administration had requested a $50 million increase for national park operations; in May, 78 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 37 U.S. Senators signed bipartisan letters to the appropriators seeking an additional $150 million for national park operations.
Congress also approved $35 million for land acquisition needs in the national parks, including critical funding for the Park Service to purchase land now threatened by development from willing sellers at Big Thicket National Preserve, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. This is $20 million less than was available to parks the previous year, $7 million less than the administration had requested, and far below what is needed to purchase vital lands inside and around the parks. However, this cut was less than the more severe cut made to the Park Service’s state grant program, which provides matching grants that enable states to purchase lands threatened by development for use instead as state and community parks.
“Many national parks are being strangled by reckless development,” Obey said. “The Park Service doesn’t have sufficient funds to purchase vulnerable land in and around the parks from willing sellers, so developers are moving in—jeopardizing the investment our nation has already made in some of our most special places.”
Additionally, Congress provided $375,000 for the Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program for the agency to distribute as grants to state and community groups researching and renovating sites relating to the Underground Railroad.
A bipartisan group of more than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are co-sponsoring the National Park Centennial Act (H.R. 1124 and S.886), legislation that if passed would provide much-needed funding for national park maintenance and natural and cultural preservation needs. This new funding would be provided in part through a voluntary check-off on individual federal income tax returns.
The bill is expected to pass the U.S. House of Representatives tonight and the U.S. Senate tomorrow.