Congressional Hearing Examines Health of Southwest National Parks

Date:   October 13, 2005
Contact:   Kelli Holsendolph, NPCA, 202-454-3311

Congressional Hearing Examines Health of Southwest National Parks

FLAGSTAFF - At a congressional field hearing today at City Hall in Flagstaff, Arizona, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) testified about the funding needs of national parks in the Southwest. The hearing, hosted by Government Reform, Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder (R-IN), is part of a series of congressional hearings being held over the next two years to examine the needs of America’s national parks.

“Business plans developed in more than 70 national parks across the nation show that on average, parks operate with only two-thirds of the needed funding—a system-wide deficit in excess of $600 million annually,” said NPCA Board of Trustees Member and University of Utah Law Professor Bob Keiter in his written testimony. “Annual operating budgets of the national parks simply have not kept pace with needs.”

In its written testimony, NPCA raised concern about the funding needs at Grand Canyon National Park and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona; Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico; and Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah.

The National Park Service’s funding challenges are compounded by unfunded demands related to homeland security, which is particularly prevalent in the national parks of the Southwest, NPCA’s testimony notes. Security-related operating costs of the Park Service have reached approximately $40 million in annual recurring costs through fiscal year 2005, primarily in the nation’s icon and border parks. Construction costs associated with increased security needs at five locations, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona have totaled $48 million since September 11, 2001—costs that the Park Service is not compensated for by the Department of Homeland Security, and which reduce resources devoted to resource protection and visitor services. The impact of funding homeland security has also meant fewer available resources to meet the needs at other national park units, like Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, for example. At Carlsbad Caverns, staffing shortages are affecting law enforcement and visitor safety services. The park has only 76 full time filled positions, down from 105 several years ago, and only 4 commissioned rangers to protect and serve visitors throughout the 46,000-acre park.

Given the scope of unmet needs in Grand Canyon, it is not surprising that officials announced last month that entry fees into the park would be increased from $20 to $25 next year. According to Park Service records, the Grand Canyon has a total of $238 million in unfunded projects ranging from the rehabilitation of cultural landscapes at Kolb Studio to the restoration of North Rim trails. The Hermit road on the South Rim provides visitors with access to Hermit Rest, a remote cabin that is also the starting point for a popular backcountry trail.

“The rehabilitation of this road, the surface of which has crumbled so badly in some spots that it resembles a broken potato chip, will cost nearly $9 million,” noted Keiter in his written testimony.

As NPCA’s testimony points out, funding woes also constrain the ability of the Park Service to protect cultural resources in the parks. For example, NPCA’s June 2005 State of the Parks assessment of Bryce Canyon National Park revealed that funding constraints have resulted in the Park Service’s inability to fund several critical staff positions, including cultural resource experts, trail maintenance staff, biological technicians, law enforcement rangers, interpreters, and a geologist. With an operational budget short $3.5 million of what is needed Zion National Park struggles to adequately care for its resources and to provide visitor services. Important resource protection projects have been left unfunded at Zion and because of funding shortfalls the park lacks the ability to hire critical staff positions to support basic resource management functions. In fact, as noted in NPCA’s July 2005 State of the Parks assessment of Zion National Park, the park’s interpretive staff is comprised of 8 full time employees, 10 seasonal employees, and one volunteer—a ratio of roughly 1 interpreter for every 105,000 park visitors.

NPCA called on Congress and the administration today to increase the parks’ annual operations budget and pass the National Park Centennial Act. According to NPCA’s March report, Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America’s National Park Heritage, the national parks are crippled by a $600 million annual funding shortfall and a backlog of maintenance needs estimated by the Congressional Research Service to range between $4.5 and $9.7 billion.

Richard Frost, associate regional director of the Intermountain region of the National Park Service, Former National Park Service Associate Regional Director for Natural and Cultural Resources Rick Smith, and Deborah Tuck, president of the Grand Canyon National Park Foundation also gave testimony today.

“The establishment of the National Park Service in 1916 reflected a national consensus that the natural and cultural resources contained within America's parks must be protected—held in the public trust—and preserved for future generations,” said Deborah Tuck. “Congress and the American public need to recognize that there are real threats to the integrity of our national parks.”

The Grand Canyon National Park Foundation testified today about its group’s work to meet the needs in Grand Canyon National Park. Over the past five years the Foundation has supplied $13.5 million to the park. The Grand Canyon National Park Foundation works with other dedicated partners, such as the private Grand Canyon Trust, to recruit volunteers who assist with the control of invasive plants, wildlife monitoring, and other resource management functions in the park.

“From the early linkage between parks and the promotion of tourism by the railroads, to the depression era Civilian Conservation Corps employment programs, on to the environmental era, the history of the national park system has always been a telling window on the evolving character of our nation,” said Grand Canyon Trust Executive Director Bill Hedden. “Today’s chronic underfunding of basic upkeep, visitors services and protection of the park resources themselves reveals modern Washington’s crippled vision of a country that cannot afford to honor the past or take care of our rich heritage for the future.”

This series of hearings is the first focused effort by Congress in decades to examine national park funding needs in-depth, and to identify solutions to meeting the challenges. Information gathered during the hearings is being used by Rep. Souder to establish a comprehensive record of the needs of the nation’s parks. Chairman Souder has held hearings previously in Gettysburg, Penn., Washington, D.C., Boston, Mass., and Seattle, Washington.


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