We are expected to hear from Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar today at a press conference in Yosemite regarding the Centennial Initiative. The program was announced with some fanfare one year ago on the 90th anniversary of the NPS at a ceremony in Yellowstone National Park.
Anticipating this announcement, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees have released a statement which both celebrates the upcoming centennial, and cautions that new programs shouldn't overlook the core values which have made the park agency a success for 91 years. They suggest that programs announced today be evaluated using the following criteria; that successful programs should:
- Provide a sustained level of investment of public funds that ensures preservation of the national parks;
- Heed and incorporate science in management decisions and planning;
- Ensure the highest degree of protection of national parks, consistent with the law;
- Preserve the uniqueness and special role of units of the National Park System; and
- Respond with urgency to the growing impact of climate change.
Much of the controversy surrounding the Centennial Challenge has been an original provision which creates an absolute dependency on private dollars. From the beginning, there has been concern that Centennial projects will be shaped by industry demand. This concern is apparently addressed by the Coalition with the 4th point.
Funding of projects or activities that would clutter or commercialize units of the National Park System, erode their air quality, add to their congestion or noise, or otherwise compromise the unique and authentic experiences of the national parks is at odds with the national park mission and would deprive present and future generations of the special purpose that national parks were intended to provide, separate and distinct from other public lands. Congress should carefully screen new funding proposals to ensure that none would have this result.
Climate change will almost certainly be addressed in the programs and projects announced by Mr. Kempthorne and Mrs. Bomar today. It has to be. Our National Parks are already showing signs of stress under the warming temperatures, and it may be the biggest management issue facing the parks for the next 110 years as well. The Retirees suggest that funding urgently needs to prioritize the role that national parks must play in helping the nation respond to climate change. Says Rick Smith, former Superintendent at Carlsbad Caverns, "above all, we are urging Congress to spend tax dollars wisely at a critical time for America’s National Park System, moving toward its second century in a changing climate."