Press Release Oct 5, 2017

Zinke Must Use Florida Trip to Call for Relief Funding for National Parks

His visit comes at a critical time as the administration prepares their proposal to Congress to provide needed funding relief to devastated communities.

Statement by John Adornato, Sun Coast Senior Director for National Parks Conservation Association

“We welcome Secretary Zinke’s visit to see the damage to our communities surrounding the Everglades, Big Cypress and Biscayne. He needs to see for himself the devastation we are surrounded by—news and pictures don’t tell the complete story. His visit comes at a critical time as the administration prepares their proposal to Congress to provide needed funding relief to devastated communities.

“As our communities get back up and running, our national parks must too. They serve as places of recreation, and are economic drivers for so many Floridians. In order to recover, our parks need money not just to repair, but to rebuild stronger and with more resilience to protect park infrastructure and resources from future storms. Now is the time to build smarter, as many aging park facilities may not withstand another hurricane.

“America’s Everglades is our first line of defense against the record-breaking hurricanes we’ve seen this year. Its landscape serves as a natural barrier and protects our communities against storm surges. Secretary Zinke must ensure Everglades restoration projects stay on track and are well-funded for the benefit it provides to our parks and communities.

“The administration and Congress must move quickly to include funding for our communities and our parks to help them recover and rebuild, and ensure these places are stronger, and more resilient to future disasters. We want parks reopened for business so they can continue to support the tourism economy that the region depends upon for our long-term recovery.”

BACKGROUND: Interior Secretary Zinke has pledged to make park issues a focus of his tenure, including tackling the National Park Service’s more than $11.3 billion maintenance backlog. Many of our parks are already showing their age, with crumbling buildings, roads in disrepair and closed trails. Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida nearly a month ago, crippling national park sites in Florida and destroying sites in the Virgin Islands. Rangers have been forced to operate our parks on shoestring budgets. Now, in the wake of the hurricanes, rangers must find even more money to repair our parks, making an already desperate situation worse. Costs for hurricane recovery are staggering. Early estimates expect hundreds of millions of dollars in needed repairs at our national parks, which far exceeds the annual maintenance budget for the entire National Park System. Failure to include emergency funds would cripple the park service budget.

According to the National Park Service, approximately 50 park sites in nine states and territories have been impacted by hurricanes so far this year. While some parks were closed for only a couple of days and experienced minimal damage, many parks will be closed for an extended time. In response, the National Park Service mobilized more than 400 park rangers and staff from more than 100 national park sites to assist with recovery efforts including search and rescue, responding to emergencies, assessing damage, and serving in other important recovery operations. Impacts to local national parks include:

• The Florida Keys community relies heavily on the tourism and fishing industries for their economic well-being. Natural resource impacts to the Florida Keys and Florida Bay in Everglades National Park are significant and not yet fully understood, however there are concerns of economy-crippling algae bloom.

• At Everglades National Park, the Gulf Coast Visitor Center is completely destroyed, likely limiting the tour boat operations. Worse still, the surrounding Everglades City and Chokoloskee towns are in need of structural repair and improvements to the wastewater facility to keep waters critical for the fishing activities clean.

• The Shark Valley region of Everglades National Park is closed due to substantial flooding that may start to threaten park structures inside. This biking and tram-tour destination will likely remain closed, greatly impacting the tourist season, due to substantial flooding.

• At Dry Tortugas National Park, a 40-foot section of the historic Fort Jefferson moat wall collapsed with initial estimates for repair at more than $10 million.

• Big Cypress remains closed to the public, including hunting and recreational activities. With more than one million visitors per year, Big Cypress is a critical component of our tourism economy.

• At Virgin Islands National Park, park staff housing and some of the oldest historic structures were destroyed. The park suffered so much damage that it could be closed for an entire year, which would threaten the livelihoods of people throughout the island dependent upon the tourism related to the park.

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About National Parks Conservation Association Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historic, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.