From bipartisan funding legislation to major land and water protections, 2021 has been a great year for parks.
1. The National Park Service will receive more than $1.7 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed Congress last month.
This significant funding, spread out over five years, will support the critical maintenance and repair of roads, bridges, transportation systems and wildlife crossings, as well as other park needs, including climate adaptation, throughout the country. NPCA and our advocates have lobbied diligently for years to help secure this important funding.
2. In October, the Biden administration restored protections for three national monuments that had been slashed by the previous administration.
Proclamations by President Trump in 2017 and 2020 had left Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument vulnerable to destructive practices, including off-road vehicle use, mining, oil and gas development, and industrial-scale fishing. The October reversal restores full federal protections for the ancestral homelands of multiple Tribal nations, areas rich with cultural and scientific artifacts, wildlife habitat, and other nationally significant lands and waters.
3. The Department of the Interior and National Park Service have strong new leadership.
The Senate confirmed Congresswoman Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior in March and Tribal leader Chuck F. Sams III as National Park Service director in November. Both have demonstrated pro-parks experience, and it is the first time our public lands will benefit from Indigenous leadership in either role. After nearly five years without a director, national park staff will have strong advocates at the helm of both agencies.
4. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers took action to restore national water protections.
The agencies released a proposal that would repeal a 2020 rewrite of a rule known as the Waters of the United States. The rule had previously helped clarify which lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act, allowing the agencies to more effectively manage them. The 2020 revision, however, eliminated protections for more than half of America’s wetlands, along with many rivers and streams, threatening drinking water for millions of people. The new proposal will restore protections for waterways throughout the U.S., including the waters at many national parks.
5. Two key landscapes were protected from oil and gas development, and larger energy reforms could be on the horizon.
In February, the Delaware River Basin Commission voted to ban fracking from the Delaware River Basin, protecting the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River from the harmful effects of fracking wastewater. Four area governors serve on the commission, and all four voted in support of the ban. Separately, in November, the Biden administration announced a proposed moratorium on new oil and gas drilling on federal lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years, a move that would protect culturally important lands in the Southwest. The Department of the Interior is currently conducting a more extensive review of the nation’s oil and gas leasing system and considering much-needed reforms that could offer more widespread environmental safeguards.
6. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed stronger methane regulations, a move that will help combat climate change.
In November, the agency proposed a new rule that would reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry 74% from 2005 levels by 2030. Methane is a potent climate-warming gas, and limiting methane pollution is critical to achieving U.S. climate goals under the Paris Agreement. Climate change is the greatest threat our public lands have ever faced, and every single national park site is affected by the crisis.
7. Some U.S. highways will soon be safer for wildlife.
Interstate 40 in the Pigeon River Gorge near Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been plagued by wildlife collisions — a problem that not only kills bears, elk, bobcats, coyotes and other park animals, but can be fatally dangerous for people, too. Last month, after extensive work by NPCA and other advocates, the North Carolina Department of Transportation agreed to install underpasses along the highway that will make it easier for wildlife to cross. And new funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (mentioned in item 1) will provide $350 million toward building similar crossings along other highways in wildlife-dense areas so that animals can migrate more safely in search of food, shelter and mates.
Multiple NPCA staff members contributed to this story.
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