Policy Update Apr 16, 2021

Testimony: Public Witness Day for FY22 Appropriations

Written testimony by John Garder, NPCA Senior Director of Budget and Appropriations, for the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies

Chairwoman Pingree, Ranking Member Joyce and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on behalf of National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). Founded in 1919, NPCA is the leading national, independent voice for protecting and enhancing America’s National Park System for present and future generations. We appreciate the opportunity to provide our views regarding the National Park Service (NPS) FY22 budget. Our requests for this fiscal year are:

  1. $2,888,287,000 for ‘Operation of the National Park System’ ($200,000,000 above FY21);
  2. $366,626,000 for the Resource Stewardship subactivity within the Operation of the National Park System ($5 million above FY21), specifically for Cultural Resource Project funds; and
  3. $32,889,000 for the Heritage Partnership Program ($9,000,000 above FY21)

We commend the committee for increases to the Operation of the National Park System (ONPS) in recent years, including the $111 million increase in FY21. These funds are critical to help parks recover from years of underfunding. Unfortunately, NPS is still struggling with insufficient staff and other operating needs due to the impact of uncontrollable fixed costs compounded by record visitation increases. Between 2011 and 2019, the park service lost 16% of its staff while at the same time struggling to accommodate a 17% increase in visitation. Staffing for our national parks is creating major challenges for park superintendents who are struggling with reduced spending power and unable to hire lapsed positions.

Park superintendents regularly report challenges as a result of understaffing and how these constraints are compounded by often double-digit percentage increases in visitation. Staff commonly cover multiple corollary duties. It is not uncommon to have, for example, interpretive staff addressing increased restroom use or law enforcement assisting with parking cars. As a result, other needs go unaddressed. Natural and cultural resource protection, research and monitoring, programming, and other services central to parks meeting their mission go unaddressed or delayed indefinitely.

We commend the administration’s recognition of parks’ operating needs in its preliminary budget, as well as the focus on racial justice and climate change. Additional operations funding can help with both of these issues.

Restoring thousands of lapsed positions is an opportunity to diversify NPS staffing.

The vast majority of NPS staff, 83%, are white, a percentage significantly higher than other federal agencies, while more than three in five are men. The lack of ethnic and racial diversity among park staff is cited as one reason that people of color comprise a disproportionately low percentage of park visitors. For example, only 2% of national park visitors are African American. Bringing rangers back to our parks, and ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce while doing so, can help make all Americans feel welcome in their parks.

Funding can also help increase HR capacity to address diversity issues, from connecting with academia and other sources to cultivate a pipeline of talented career recruits, to ensuring the ubiquity of diversity training and related resources that are needed to enhance retention. An infusion of operations funding can also expand community outreach and improve the relevance of park programming. Investments can support outreach to underrepresented communities; field trips and ranger programs, including virtually; and IT needs such as distance learning. These can be complimented by multilingual signage and programming and other culturally relevant efforts that make parks accessible and relevant to all.

Investing in park operations can also assist NPS with needs related to climate change adaptation, resiliency and mitigation.

Our national parks are on the front lines of climate change, between storm surges, wildfire risks, and threatened wildlife habitat and irreplaceable cultural sites. Helping our parks adapt to a changing climate requires funding. These investments can be made across diverse subaccounts within park operations, including Cultural and Natural Resource Stewardship.

Among other climate-related needs, funding is vital to relocate facilities threatened by erosion and storm surges, combat invasive species, address catastrophic wildfires, provide critical air and water quality monitoring and otherwise inventory and monitor cultural and natural resources to identify threats and develop adaptive management strategies.

We note that the Climate Conservation Corps concept offers an opportunity to address many needed repair, resiliency, and mitigation projects on park lands and importantly, adjacent landscapes that share wildlife habitat and watersheds. NPCA is an enthusiast of this concept, which, in addition to supporting these climate-related needs, offers to train a diverse workforce that can steward our parks and public lands in the future. We look forward to working with the administration and Congress to help make this vision a reality.

Increased park operations can also support infrastructure investments that take into consideration adaptation, resiliency and mitigation. Park maintenance increases should not just be limited to those through the Great American Outdoors Act. Supporting cyclic maintenance, repair and rehabilitation can help keep the deferred maintenance backlog from growing.

Secondly, Cultural Resource Project funds need support through the Resource Stewardship subactivity within the Operation of the National Park System. Within the Cultural Resources Stewardship program, Cultural Resource Project funds are used to complete the National Park System’s highest priority cultural resource management projects. These projects are beyond the funding capabilities of the parks themselves, and are designed to preserve, protect and provide information about the diverse array of NPS’s cultural resources. Funds from this program is used by the National Park Service to fulfill its Section 110 (National Historic Preservation Act) obligations. Those obligations include 1) ensuring historic preservation responsibilities are fully integrated into all federal agencies; 2) supporting programs and initiatives that advance the goals of the NHPA; 3) Engaging more diverse communities in historic preservation; and 4) ensuring that historic properties are protected and that new projects do not unnecessarily damage historic properties.

Cultural Resource Project Funds have been used in seven NPS regions (including Alaska) to document, preserve, and interpret African American history. An increase of $5 million within the Cultural Resources Stewardship program directed towards Cultural Resources Project Funding would allow for that critical work to continue and to be expanded to other traditionally underrepresented groups including Asian Pacific Americans, Latinos, and American Indians. The project funds have been flat funded at $27.5 million since 2016 and warrants a modest $5 million increase to $32,500,000. This increase is reflected in the $366,626,000 request for the Resource Stewardship subactivity.

Finally, we request $32.9 million for the Heritage Partnership Program, which supports National Heritage Areas (NHAs) in dozens of communities throughout the country. The 55 National Heritage Areas are strong examples of truly effective public-private partnerships established in support of conservation and preservation values. Heritage areas allow local experts to better protect and interpret stories and resources that are both regionally distinct and nationally significant. The federal funding NHAs receive must be matched dollar for dollar with money from a non-federal source. On average most heritage areas are generating a five to one return on their federal investment making them one of the most cost-effective programs ever managed by NPS. That money is used to provide grants to local partners who manage a variety of local and regional programming.

The funding level for the Heritage Partnership Program in FY21 was $23 million. Members of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas, a coalition of NHA managers and executive directors, have concluded their program should be funded at a level where each heritage area receives $500,000 in federal funding per year. With 55 NHAs currently designated a budget of $32 million would allow for each to receive $500,000 (after meeting NPS guidelines and performance benchmarks) while providing additional funds to support new heritage areas as well as NPS management and staffing needs.

We commend the administration’s commitment as well to economic recovery. As members of the committee know, investing in our national parks does not just preserve our cultural and natural heritage, but is also a wise investment. National parks deliver robust economic returns, with $10 in economic benefits for every dollar invested in the NPS. In 2019, 328 million park visitors spent an estimated $21.0 billion in local gateway communities when visiting NPS sites. This spending supported a total of 341 thousand jobs, $14.1 billion in labor income, $24.3 billion in value added, and $41.7 billion in economic output in the national economy. Our request above supports countless jobs, from NPS employees and the ripple effect of their spending, to conservation corps participants, local communities that benefit from cultural tourism at National Heritage areas, and more.

While the above requests are our top three priorities, we should briefly note our commitment to other programs and agencies. The Land and Water Conservation Fund can be a critical tool to support the 30x30 goal; additional appropriations such as Community Project Funding, above what can be funded through the Great American Outdoors Act, can support this goal. Endangered Species Act funding is also needed, and we appreciate recent investments to provide for these needs. We urge the committee to continue to make significant investments in the protection and recovery of our most vulnerable species, including fish, wildlife and plants in our national parks. The health and long-term protection of our national parks is also contingent on continuing strong investments in critical watershed protection and restoration programs. NPCA strongly supports Environmental Protection Agency and USFWS programs that restore watersheds essential to the wetlands, rivers, streams, and bays that flow in and around our parks. We applaud the committee for its past commitment and urge its continued support for the efforts of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Program, Delaware River Restoration Program and the South Florida Program.

In conclusion, we hope that the committee’s new leadership and membership and the administration’s commitment to our national parks, communities and the broader environment, coupled with the expiration of the Budget Control Act of 2011, can be an opportunity for increased investments. We look forward to the president’s full budget and communicating with you as the FY22 process moves forward. We appreciate your attention to our views and thank you again for the opportunity to submit testimony.

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