Thomas Amendment to Immigration Bill Addresses Border, Homeland Security Duties Straining National Parks

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   April 6, 2006
Contact:   Andrea Keller Helsel, NPCA. 202-454-3332


Thomas Amendment to Immigration Bill Addresses Border, Homeland Security Duties Straining National Parks

New Poll Says Reimburse Park Budgets for Unfunded Duties

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today called on the U.S. Senate to support the amendment filed by Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) to the immigration bill, which would begin to focus needed attention on the impact that border and homeland security demands are having on America's National Park System.

"Our park rangers are conducting expensive, extensive homeland security duties to preserve park resources and keep visitors safe," said NPCA Vice President for Government Affairs Craig Obey. "Senator Thomas' amendment shines a bright light on this increasing challenge in our national parklands, and the need to do something about it."

According to a new poll conducted by Zogby International on behalf of NPCA, 75 percent of respondents say they support the National Park Service being reimbursed for homeland and border security activities that rangers have to conduct in national park sites from Organ Pipe Cactus in Arizona to the Statue of Liberty.

NPCA also today released an assessment of Catoctin Mountain Park, which surrounds Camp David. This assessment, completed by NPCA's Center for State of the Parks, indicates that unfunded homeland security and law enforcement duties have strained the park's budget and limited its ability to protect its cultural treasures and ensure that visitors are offered a high quality experience that includes public education programs.

Catoctin is not alone. According to NPCA's 2005 report, Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America's National Park Heritage, national park sites along U.S. borders and several icon parks have had to ratchet up homeland security duties since 2001, including surveillance, interception of drug smugglers and other illegal activity, and screening millions of park visitors. Along the southern border of the U.S., the Park Service manages seven park sites.

Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in particular, has become a well-known hot spot for illegal border entries, and Sequoia National Park in California has been targeted by Mexican drug cartels, which have relocated significant pot-growing operations to the park's wooded backcountry. Over the past year, rangers have seized illegal drugs at several parks, including Coronado National Monument in Arizona, and Padre Island National Seashore and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identified other sites within the park system as potential terrorist targets for their symbolic value, forcing the Park Service to reallocate existing resources to beef up security at places like Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument, and the St. Louis Arch. When rangers from parks such as Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah are sent to guard the Statue of Liberty during times of heightened security, dams, and porous international park borders, their positions remain unfilled.

In the same Zogby poll, 44 percent of likely voters said that they are not aware that national parks are spending millions of dollars on homeland security needs. In fact, homeland security duties and equipment, which cost the agency approximately $43 million annually, have been incurred while the Park Service is already operating with an annual shortfall in excess of $600 million annually. At this time, the Park Service is not yet eligible for reimbursement from the Department of Homeland Security.

"The Park Service's important homeland security duties should be recognized and reimbursed accordingly," said Obey.

Zogby International conducted interviews of 1,007 likely voters chosen at random nationwide. All calls were made from Zogby International headquarters in Utica, N.Y., from 3/14/06 thru 3/16/06. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points.

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