Reader Participation Day: Should There Be a Moratorium On Additions To the National Park System?

If you follow national parks and the National Park Service to any degree, you likely know that the agency has a very hefty maintenance backlog. Latest figures show that backlog is somewhere between $8 billion and $9 billion.

And yet, members of Congress have no qualms about adding new units to the National Park System. Would you run your household this way? Is it fiscally prudent to keep adding units when we can't seem to afford the ones we already have?

Or, because some of these opportunities are not going to be around forever, should those that merit entrance to that elite club called the National Park System be added with the details about how to pay for them, as well as getting serious about wiping out the backlog, put off for some other day?

Bottom line, travelers: Should there be a moratorium on additions to the National Park System until the red ink is wiped out?

Comments

No one, government or individual, can go on spending money they don't have. One would think with the Great Recession that lesson would be have been learned but not for some. Parks are nice, politicians aren’t. Clean up the mess before you make another one, no additions.

Absolutely. If there are insufficient funds to effectively operate the parks we have, we shouldn't add more to the system. I'm amazed to see continual bills introduced (by both parties) to investigate the possibility of creating this or that historic site, thus stretching the NPS budget by another park. I even advocate "pruning" a few parks, as the Traveler puts it. I can understand Mather's and Albright's concerns about "diluting" the national parks with sites that have less-than-superlative resources, or less-than-national significance.

There's been some local support to make Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument into a national park, or to at least change its jurisdiction from the Forest Service to the NPS. It seems clear is that goal is to get better funding and perhaps better tourist facilities. However - it would probably just shift money and probably make it tougher on the NPS.

Maybe there should be more thought to having less infrastructure in the Parks. It makes sense to add them to protect from encroachment but we don't need to turn each of them into Disneyland.

This is a tough call. If we delay including additional significant areas into the national parks system while we wait for budgets to stabilize, those areas may be lost for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, if adding new areas threatens the preservation and protection of existing areas, tough choices will have to be made.

The real question is this: How much budget shortfall should be tolerated before a park or porton of a park must be closed to the public because of threats to the protection and preservation of the resource? NPS units serve as local and regional economic engines. For this reason alone, it is very unpopular politically if a park is considered for closing.

Nevertheless, at some point, doing more wtih less turns into doing less with less, and protection, interpretation, and preservation suffer. At what point should parks close visitor centers and cancel all interpretive activities? At what point should law enforcement activities be contracted out to local police and sheriff's departments. At what point is the degree of budget shortfall so significant that the total closing of parks must be considered?

If parks are closed because of budget shortfall, what impact will this have on local and regional communities that depend on park tourism for their incomes? To what extent do parks depend on user fees? Should parks that have no user fees by law have their laws changed so user fees are collected at entrance gates? What impact will this have on visitation?

Taking parks off the NPS payroll is not a solution, as someone else will have to carry the tab. The transfer of Mt. St. Helens National Monument from the USFS to the NPS is a case in point, although the transfer in this case would be in the opposite direction.

I think that there are intelligent ways of managing our national deficit without putting an outright ban on additional units to the national parks system. Adding new units to our national parks system is not a reason why our current budget is in the mess it's in, and it' won't be the reason why we cannot fix this situation for the future. Adding new units to the national parks system, however, should be done in such a manner that it does not substantially inflict detrimental effects on existing parks.

NO, NO and NO--in fact, we should be adding more sites and expanding existing units. In my opinion it's a matter of priorities, not a matter of lack of money per se. There always seems to be enough money for say foreign military adventures, tax cuts for the hyper-rich, and other goals sought by a certain segment of the populace, but when it comes to "the best idea America ever had"--why, we can't afford that. I agree it's not possible to save every "worthy" site as a park but adding a few new units (4 or 5?--1% or so unit growth) every year--plus eliminating some of the maintenance and acquisition backlog) should be doable.

In the meantime, Canada is looking better and better every week, and it has a fine (and growing) national park system, too.

Nope, I support continuous acquisition, like in handing over Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument to the NPS as long as there is an agreement of no further development.
”Recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.“ Aldo Leopold

Yes, I agree with the moratorium Idea. Write up the petition, I'll sign it. Include a provision whereas any and all monies taken in by the National Park System be used solely by the National Park System and are not to be collected by the Federal Government as if another tax to be divided up and a mere stipend returned to the Park Service which is clearly not enough.
Thank you guys (and Ladies) for the awesome job that you do. I have thoroughly enjoyed all visits to to our National Parks.

I think it would be ok for more land to be protected but that doesn't mean we need to make it into a drivable scenic route with luxury cabins and what not. Can't there just be parks that are only backpacking & hike through only? Do we need roads, and staff to oversee every park? These type of parks would offer a more "primitive" camping experience for the more primitive type of outdoors man. Also, isn't the NPS a non-profit? Couldn't we do fundraisers to help lower costs?

Random Walker:

Nope, I support continuous acquisition, like in handing over Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument to the NPS as long as there is an agreement of no further development.

I don't think that's the goal of those advocating for places like MSH to be transferred to the NPS. They actually want visitor facilities (there was a year-round visitor center there that was shut down due to lack of funding) and perhaps even lodging and new campground facilities. One of the difficulties there for tourism is that there is no road linking the two sides. If it ever gets added to the NPS, there will likely be development.

We have some interesting acquisitions in our local East Bay Regional Park District. They acquire land by purchase and/or donation, but set them aside until they have the further means to open them to people. That at least keeps them from being turned into housing or shopping centers. I'm all for it since we're losing a lot of our local open space.

oopsy

I don't think that's the goal of those advocating for places like MSH to be transferred to the NPS.

Tell me about it! Screw tourism, wilderness for wilderness's sake I say..
Crap, they have what, three roads slashed into it, had 3 damn visitors centers at one time.
(Ya, I finished off a whole pot of coffee this morning..;-})

With the number of NPS units approaching 400 and around 3675 state parks (source: Wikipedia) in the U.S., the public sector is already addressing the preservation, use and enjoyment of a huge number of "park" resources. That said, I'm not ready to call for a moratorium on the creation of new national parks. Instead, I'd like to see two things: tightening of the designation criteria and the removal of as much Congressional political interference as possible from the creation process. The first item would be relatively easy; the second one would be far harder, if not downright impossible at this point. Still, I think a relatively large and diversified advisory commission would result in quality submissions for designation and less controversy that could boost calls for no more parks. Another alternative to a moratorium could be the deauthorization of marginal parks. I'm sure we all have our candidates for such a process.

RoadRanger:

With the number of NPS units approaching 400 and around 3675 state parks (source: Wikipedia) in the U.S., the public sector is already addressing the preservation, use and enjoyment of a huge number of "park" resources. That said, I'm not ready to call for a moratorium on the creation of new national parks. Instead, I'd like to see two things: tightening of the designation criteria and the removal of as much Congressional political interference as possible from the creation process. The first item would be relatively easy; the second one would be far harder, if not downright impossible at this point. Still, I think a relatively large and diversified advisory commission would result in quality submissions for designation and less controversy that could boost calls for no more parks. Another alternative to a moratorium could be the deauthorization of marginal parks. I'm sure we all have our candidates for such a process.

By law, all NPS units must be authorized by Congressional legislation. Good luck trying to pry that power out of the Congress. Not sure about any commission. Bipartisan commissions have gotten rather messy over the years since they aren't exactly free from political influence.

Like it or not - in order to get funding for preservation, there is going to have to be a give in take regarding recreational uses.

And Captcha for today is "political enticed". And after editing my original comment, it's "Law trounced".

No responsible person (or government) should acquire things that they don't know how they will pay for. "Gee, there's a great little spot for a vacation home. But I don't have the money to pay the mortgage or the home owners association. I'll just buy it anyway."

If you are having trouble maintaining what you have, you don't get more. I definitely support a moratorium on new Park acquisitions until current ones can be maintained. And I agree with the poster who said that all $ collector for park entrances should go to the NPS and not into the general federal coffers. (I don't know how it is currently handled, but that makes sense)

Mark

Funds from entrance fees are allocated in a complicated formula depending on a set of criteria, but let's keep things simple: in the good 'ole days parks that charged entrance fees shipped all the money to the general treasury and could generally rely on Congress to fund park activities through the budget process. Then pay to play became more fashionable in the nineties, and we had the fee-demonstration program wherein land management agencies were encouraged to introduce fees for activities and entrance and agencies and units were able to keep a percentage to fund operations and projects. Things were a little loosy-goosy under the program, fees were being instituted for everything under the sun, and people started to get amped up about it. Then Congress passed the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) in part to clean up the embarrassing mess, and in part to benefit parks and other lands. Now, a typical large park retains a small portion of their entrance fees to pay for "cost-of-collection" activities; 80% of the rest is retained by the park for specific "projects" (actually a complicated system of "grant"-type project proposals are formulated and sent up the chain for approval based on the political flavor of the year and then the dollars are given "back" to the park for the projects that the national leadership feels follow national strategic initiatives) and 20% is set aside for similar proposals from park units which do not benefit from entrance fees, including many that are prohibited from collecting them by their enabling legislation. That is the simplified version of course, and does not include what happens with concession franchise fees or other streams of income to the parks.

MarkK:

And I agree with the poster who said that all $ collector for park entrances should go to the NPS and not into the general federal coffers. (I don't know how it is currently handled, but that makes sense)

Actually - that is how it's currently handled. According to the current law, at least 80% of the entrance fees or site-specific annual pass revenues stays at that site and the rest goes back to the agency. Apparently any interagency pass sold at a unit stays within the agency that sold it - whether it's the NPS, BLM, Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife, or Bureau of Reclamation - although I hear all of it goes into the particular agency's general funds and not the unit's general funds. I remember one article on the Traveler that detailed that the NPS had the overwhelming majority of interagency pass revenues. I'm not quite sure how they divvy up the revenue from other sales sources. The USGS sells the interagency passes online. It also doesn't appear that AAA is selling the new passes. I remember they used to offer the older National Parks Pass for $48.

@Y P W:

National Monuments do not require Congressional approval to be established. However, they do require Congress to pass a budget to fund their operations.

Hell no. Really? Are you serious with this question? I didn't expect to see such an anti-Parks idea floated on this website.

Anonymous:

@Y P W:

National Monuments do not require Congressional approval to be established. However, they do require Congress to pass a budget to fund their operations.

Yeah - I knew that (from the Antiquities Act) but for some reason I didn't add "except for national monuments". I'm pretty sure I was thinking that at the time, but just forgot to put it in.

And my stand that site addition to the NPS isn't free from political pressures still stand. There's tons of pressures on sitting presidents to declare national monuments.

we must take advantage of every opportunity to add to protected lands - even if we are not quite sure how we're going to pay for any management we may want for them. At the very least, protecting lands now will keep them as they are now even if we don't have any on-the-ground management. To me, that is a better scenario than having lands developed and the opportunity is lost forever to protect them as parks, refuges, wilderness, etc.. Think of it as land banking for the future. Once wild lands are developed, they are lost forever.

It is not a good time for a moratorium on the addition of new NPS units. Mt St Helens NVM deperately needs an all-risk management entity, a coherent management plan befitting such a national treasure, as well as stable funding. NPS is the only agency that can offer these things, and is, frankly, MSH's only possible "salvation" as far as I am concerned. Maintaining the status quo is resulting in the slow and painful demise of this monument, with consequences for the local region as well as every American.

I am in favor of increasing entrance fees. One would think that even a minor adjustment would make a big difference on the NPS budget. That would help reduce the backlog. A vacation at a National Park is still the best bargain around, even at $30 or $40 per car. Where else can you take a family for $40 per day?

The entire NPS budget is less than 1/1000th of the Federal budget. We spend more on cosmetics, more on pet grooming, and more on potato chips, than we do on our National Parks!

Does this match the importance we place on our National Park system?

I think not.

Despite the dismal outlook for the Federal budget for the coming decades, we need not give up on properly funding NPS. The Second Century Commission Report suggests several initiatives to achieve this. http://www.npca.org/commission/