Statement of Thomas C. Kiernan

Statement of Thomas C. Kiernan

President of the National Parks Conservation Association

Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies

Committee on Appropriations

United States House of Representatives

April 19, 2007

 The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) works to protect, preserve, and enhance America’s national parks for present and future generations. On behalf of NPCA’s 325,000 members, we appreciate the opportunity to share our funding priorities and respectfully request the Committee consider these views as the FY08 Interior budget is developed. NPCA strongly supports the Administration’s request of  $1.97 billion for the Operations of the National Park System (ONPS), an increase of more than $200 million above current FY07 funding levels. However, other National Park Service accounts are woefully inadequate in the President’s budget request, most notably, funding for land acquisition. Funding for Park Service land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is requested at only $22.5 million, a cut of more than 50 percent from current FY07 levels, and over $100 million below levels only five years ago. NPCA recommends at a minimum restoring funding for Park Service land acquisition to current FY07 levels, and working toward restoring LWCF to its historic levels.      

Operations of the National Park System

A top NPCA priority is to significantly increase funding for Park Service operations. NPCA strongly supports the $1,969,010,000 requested for ONPS, an increase of  $206 million above current FY07 levels. If enacted, the requested increase of $206 million would greatly benefit our parks across the country. In particular, this budget would provide:

  • Nearly 500 permanent full-time employees
  • 1,000 new seasonal maintenance employees
  • 1,000 new seasonal interpretive rangers
  • 1,000 new seasonal visitor and resource-protection rangers

As the subcommittee is well aware, the Park Service faces a significant operational shortfall, estimated to exceed $800 million annually. In recent years, unbudgeted cost-of-living increases, un-reimbursed storm damage, and insufficient funding for new responsibilities such as homeland security, have stretched park budgets thin. Since 2001, the Park Service has absorbed $149 million for unbudgeted pay increases alone.  

Another significant shortcoming has been the across-the-board cuts required to appropriations bills as a result of insufficient allocations to the Committee. Since FY01, across-the-board cuts have cost the Park Service $111 million.

We know that the subcommittee is aware of these shortcomings and welcomed the Chairman’s efforts in both the FY07 Continuing Resolution and in FY 2005 to focus an extra measure of attention on them.

Park Service operations funding is not keeping pace with park needs. As a result, the Park Service cannot provide adequate resource protection and services for millions of visitors to our nation’s 390 national parks every year. Securing a substantial increase for park operations funding in FY08, and building upon it in the years ahead toward 2016, will help to restore our parks by their centennial.     

National Park Centennial Initiative

When the Eisenhower Administration launched Mission 66, it made a 10-year commitment of $1 billion ($7 billion in today’s dollars) in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the National Park System. Today, the American people are united around the idea of fully addressing the needs of the parks in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park System and Park Service in 2016.

The proposed National Park Centennial Initiative offers an opportunity to restore our parks, but this will require a sustained and comprehensive effort by the American public, Congress, and the White House. The central element of such an effort must involve the federal government meeting its primary stewardship responsibility to protect and fund our national parks.

There are five key areas in which the Centennial Initiative can make a measurable difference to help our parks:

  • Restore: Restore the health of the cultural and natural resources of our national parks by taking action to overcome external and internal threats.
  • Reinvest: Reinvest in our national parks by establishing reliable sources of sustainable public funding and strategic private investments.
  • Reinvigorate: Reinvigorate the management capacity and efficiency within the National Park Service by facilitating mission-driven decision-making, encouraging innovation, and stimulating stakeholder collaboration.
  • Research: Ensure that the parks have current science and active research to inform decisions about park protection, as these decisions should be based on science and informed expertise to the greatest extent possible.
  • Represent: Ensure that the National Park System continues to grow and evolve to represent and interpret nationally significant landscapes, ecosystems and the full range and diversity of American history and culture, and reflects and engages all Americans.

Land Acquisition

Federal funding for national park land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) program has decreased dramatically in recent years. In 2001, federal land acquisition was funded at $125 million, and benefited 46 national park sites; by 2007, federal funding for land acquisition had dropped 81 percent to only $22 million for one park.

This drastic cut could not come at a worse time. Unplanned development in and around national parks threatens park resources, scenic views, and air and water quality. Today, the Park Service estimates that more than 11,000 tracts or 1.8 million acres are in need of funding for acquisition, with an estimated value to developers of $1.8 billion. For instance, at Gettysburg National Military Park, the Park Service does not own nearly 20 percent of the land within its boundary.

From the world-class paleontolgical resources at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona to the historical resources associated with the encampment of General Washington’s Continental Army at Valley Forge National Historical Park, parklands across the nation are threatened. We must provide adequate LWCF funding to protect these national treasures.

The consequences of insufficient land acquisition funding are dramatically illustrated at Petrified Forest National Park —a site of top concern to NPCA and the Park Service. Petrified Forest contains more than 500 archaeological and historical sites that reflect 10,000 years of human history, and a rich fossil record of the Triassic Period. The site’s significance was underscored last week when the Department of the Interior nominated it among 36 U.S. sites for UNESCO World Heritage status. Despite support from the Park Service, and three years after Congress authorized expanding Petrified Forest, little federal funding has been appropriated for this important project, and the willing sellers in the area are growing increasingly impatient as years pass and developers offer greater and greater incentives to sell.

In FY01, Congress appropriated $2 million for the Bureau of Land Management to acquire lands now within the boundary of the park, yet these monies were reprogrammed in FY 2002 for fire suppression activities. We request at a minimum that these monies be restored. Additionally, we appreciate that the 110th Congress recognized the importance of this land acquisition need, adding Petrified Forest to the list of projects in the final FY07 Appropriations bill. Unfortunately, only $135,000 was allocated, which is not sufficient to purchase any of the Congressionally-approved 125,000 acres of private and public land.

NPCA is seeking $4 million in FY08 as a down payment. With land values rapidly increasing in the Sunbelt, further delay will only add to the cost of acquiring these lands.

Other examples of Park Service priority land acquisition projects that NPCA would like to see funded in FY08 include:

  • $1.5 million for acquisition of 440 acres in the Carbon River Gateway at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington to enhance visitor access to the park and conserve lands along the Carbon River that provide habitat for fish and wildlife;
  • $3.5 million for Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania to acquire lands within the boundary of the park that preserve and interpret the encampment of General Washington’s Continental Army in one of the fastest-growing areas in the state, and
  • $1.9 million for Fern Lake at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky and Tennessee to protect both a historical landscape, scenic viewshed, and critical water supply in the park. 

Finally, NPCA supports greater LWCF funding the Emergency Hardship, Deficiency, and Relocation Fund—key to the acquisition of inholdings, particularly in Alaska’s national parks.  The Hardship Fund is used effectively by the Park Service’s Alaska Regional Office to secure critical inholdings in national parks from willing sellers. Through the Hardship Fund, remote parcels have been secured, thus removing the threat of heirs of original allotees subdividing and selling their lots for commercial use in the middle of Alaska’s premier wilderness parks. Currently, the Hardship Fund is funded at $2.3 million.   

Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

The Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (NTF) program is the only national program dedicated to the preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of Underground Railroad history. Established by Congress in 1998 to increase public knowledge and awareness of the Underground Railroad and the desperate struggle by enslaved people to resist slavery through escape and flight, the NTF has 285 members (institutions, programs, and facilities) in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

The NTF program is an excellent public-private partnership program—a proven success and one of the best diversity-enhancing initiatives ever developed by the Park Service. Staff matches Park Service resources with local expertise to enable communities, scholars, and park sites across the U.S. to more capably tell their part of the Underground Railroad story.

Funding woes, however, threaten the future of this dynamic program. Originally funded at $500,000 annually, the NTF has suffered from a woefully inadequate budget since its inception. At its current funding level of $479,000, the NTF cannot cover staff salaries, benefits, nor pay for basic programmatic services. In November 2006, the Park Service’s own core budget projections indicated that without assistance, the NTF budget will be reduced by 72 percent by the year 2011, effectively terminating the program.

NPCA is seeking a modest $2-million increase to the annual operating budget of the NTF program. This important funding would resolve its financial needs and ensure the survival of this important program. Representatives Hastings and Castle have introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1239) to reauthorize the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act to provide funding and staffing levels more appropriate to the actual needs of the program. NPCA supports the passage of H.R. 1239 to increase the authorization for this important program. 

Great Lakes

There are 18 popular national parks in and around the Great Lakes watershed. Like the Grand Canyon and Everglades, the Great Lakes define the soul of a region and the landscape of our nation. But this invaluable resource—which provides economic and recreational benefits, as well as drinking water for 30 million Americans—needs greater support. 

NPCA co-chairs the Healing Our Waters coalition, which is calling on Congress to fully fund the Great Lakes Legacy Act with $54 million, and the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act with $16 million, among other programs. These programs, when funded in tandem with the Park Service, will help our parks, restore the Great Lakes watershed, and protect vital wildlife habitat.  


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