New Report: Critical Land Inside 55 National Parks Could Be Lost for Lack of Funding

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   April 8, 2008
Contact:   Andrea Keller Helsel, NPCA, 202.454.3332


New Report: Critical Land Inside 55 National Parks Could Be Lost for Lack of Funding

New Poll Finds 77 Percent of Voters Think Protecting National Parks by Buying Private Land Within Parks Should Be a Priority for the Federal Government

WASHINGTON, DC—The nation's leading voice for the national parks, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), today released the first comprehensive look in decades at land acquisition needs and potential development threats inside U.S. national parks. Its new report, America's Heritage: For Sale, highlights 55 national parks with critical land now on the market, and calls on Congress and the next Administration to provide the needed funding to acquire this land between now and the park system centennial in 2016.

“This is about protecting the integrity and completing the mission of the National Park Service,” said Ron Tipton, senior vice president for programs at NPCA. “In most instances, Congress has directed that these parcels, some of which are now immediately threatened by development, be purchased by the National Park Service, but the money hasn't yet been provided.”

The National Park Service currently estimates that purchasing the entire 1.8 million acres on the agency’s priority list of critical land within the congressionally designated boundaries of national parks will require Congress to appropriate $1.9 billion from the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Funding for LWCF is largely from fees paid by companies conducting offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters. 

Some of the land has actually been on the market for decades and there are many known willing sellers, but the Park Service lacks the funding to close the deal. NPCA is concerned that these willing sellers will lose patience waiting for the Park Service to receive the necessary LWCF funding, and the result may be commercial or residential development within park boundaries.

“A timber company owns a large chunk of land inside the boundaries of Mount Rainier National Park, and they are willing to sell it to the Park Service,” said Sean Smith, NPCA Northwest regional director. “However, the Park Service doesn’t have the money to purchase the land, and we don’t know how long the timber company will wait.”

NPCA’s report highlights, as an example representing a situation that exists at a number of parks, the threat now posed by an oversized hotel-museum-complex that is proposed on historic land inside Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania, where George Washington's Continental Army weathered the long winter of 1777-78. As an example of land already lost, NPCA points to a retreat center recently built inside Zion National Park in Utah, because the Park Service didn't have money to acquire the land when it went on the market.

To deter inappropriate development inside national park boundaries and enable the Park Service to purchase these so-called “in-holdings” from willing sellers, NPCA is encouraging Congress to provide the Park Service with at least $100 million this year from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with additional funding in the years leading up to the Park Service’s centennial in 2016. The organization believes the Park Service should virtually complete acquisition of all priority in-holdings by that date.

“As the site of one of the most significant battles of the American Civil War, Gettysburg defines hallowed ground,” said Cinda Waldbuesser, NPCA Pennsylvania program manager. “Yet one out of every five acres inside the Gettysburg park boundary is privately owned, and the historic landscape could be forever diminished by development if the Park Service doesn't have the resources it needs to acquire that land.”

According to a March 2008 poll performed by Peter Hart Research Associates for the National Parks Conservation Association, 77 percent of voters think that protecting national parks by buying private land within them should be a high or very high priority for the federal government.

NPCA's new report, America's Heritage: For Sale, contains information on 55 national parks with critical lands currently for sale this year, and in-depth case studies on 10 national parks from around the country as examples of what could be lost if we fail to act.

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