NPCA submitted the following position to members of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands ahead of a hearing scheduled for March 8, 2023.
NPCA appreciates the opportunity to share a summary of national park laws and policies that we believe set the guiding principles for conservation across all federal land management agencies.
Many laws seek to protect and preserve American lands and waters for the sake of future generations. When Congress passed the first law creating a national park, Yellowstone, in 1872, its intent was “a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The legislation called for subsequent regulations to provide for the “preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders, within the park, and their retention in their natural condition.” This is the root of conservation laws and has been a north star guiding the establishment of hundreds of national park units, wild and scenic rivers, wilderness areas, roadless areas, and many other small and large places of cultural, natural and sacred significance.
After decades of establishing more national parks and monuments, an agency was needed to manage these places of great national significance. In 1916, Congress enacted the National Park Service (NPS) Organic Act which requires the agency to manage national park units “to conserve the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wild life … and to provide for the enjoyment of the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wild life in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The Organic Act asserted conservation as the highest purpose for National Park System units. Subsequently, NPS has promulgated management policies that interpret the agency’s legal duties and obligations in complying with the NPS Organic Act when managing national park units.
The NPS management policies state, “The fundamental purpose of the national park system, established by the Organic Act and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act, as amended, begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. This mandate is independent of the separate prohibition on impairment and applies all the time with respect to all park resources and values, even when there is no risk that any park resources or values may be impaired.” (at 1.4.3). Conservation is intended to maintain a place’s natural condition whether its significance is natural or historical. The place does not need to be threatened by a damaging use or activity in order to be conserved.
Over the last 150 years, Americans have embraced and encouraged more conservation. This is evident in recent laws like last year’s Omnibus Appropriations bill that added another historical park under the National Park Service to recent Antiquities Act designations including Camp Nelson and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monuments. It is also evident in National Park Service visitation, with 312 million recreational visits made in 2022, an increase of 15 million visits compared to 2021.
The 424 units of the National Park System are found in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and US territories. They are just one part of a spectacular public lands system. Other agencies have conservation as a part of their missions and have designated areas for wildlife, cultural resources, and other protections for decades. Conservation has stood the test of time and is more popular than ever. We encourage the committee work with our organization and other conservation groups to continue to grow our conservation legacy in the US.
For More Information
Kristen BrengelSenior Vice President of Government Affairs