A budget battle could be brewing in Congress over funding for the Interior Department. On the sidelines, the National Parks Conservation Association will be lobbying for more money for the national parks in the fiscal year 2012 budget.
While the funding bill (see chart attached below) released last week by the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee is an improvement on the House version, says John Garder, NPCA's budget analyst, it "falls short in meeting the core needs of our national parks."
"We’re pleased that the bill omits the many policy riders, including one that would reverse (Interior) Secretary (Ken) Salazar’s temporary moratorium on new uranium mining claims surrounding Grand Canyon National Park, and others that could pose threats to the air, water, and wildlife in our national parks," he said in a statement released Friday.
“We’re also pleased to see support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is critical to protecting national parks from development threats within their borders. The $111.5 million request is a vast improvement over the House level, which offered no funding for LWCF despite President Obama’s effort to protect 40 national parks from inappropriate development threats within park boundaries," Mr. Garder added.
However, the analyst maintained that "(t)he proposed funding for park operations ... falls short of protecting park resources and serving visitors."
"Although the Senate has proposed a more robust allocation than the House, the NPS operating account is cut more than twice as much. We appreciate efforts by both the House and Senate subcommittees to protect park operating accounts, however reducing operations funding $20 million below last year’s level should be reconsidered," he said.
Adequate funding for the Park Service is needed both to meet ongoing, and fixed, operating costs for the parks and to ensure that both full-time and seasonal ranger staffing levels are maintained, Mr. Garder said.
In addition, NPCA officials stressed that the national parks cannot endure "continual reductions to the construction budget, as contemplated here by a 40 percent cut in line-item projects, when NPS already estimates they receive $325 million less every year than needed to keep the maintenance backlog from growing."
While some might say the Park Service needs to endure budget cuts along with other federal agencies in an effort to cope with today's weak economy, NPCA officials stress that the parks are an economic engine for the country.
“Our national parks return $4 to the economy for every dollar invested and ensure more than $13 billion in private-sector spending and support nearly 270,000 jobs," said Mr. Garder. "In the rush to reduce the federal deficit, we must not impair the National Park Service’s ability to preserve our national identity or undermine the very places that contribute to local economies, foster jobs, and protect America’s heritage for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”