Poll Shows Vast Majority Of Voters Believe Federal Government Has Responsibility To Safeguard, Support National Parks

America's national parks, places such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, and Everglades, face problems both small and large due to poor federal funding, according to a survey of voters released today.

The survey, of 1,004 registered voters, also found that nearly nine in ten respondents believe it is either extremely important or quite important for the federal government to protect and support the national parks.

Conducted by the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Park Hospitality Association, the poll (attached below) comes just three months before Election Day.

“From the Everglades to Gettysburg and Yellowstone, our national parks are American icons and inspire visitors from across the world, supporting urban and rural economies nationwide,” said Tom Kiernan, the NPCA's president. “This poll is a clear indication that voters want to see them preserved and protected for the future.”

“The American people understand that national parks are gifts from the past to treasure today and bequeath to future generations of Americans,” added Derrick Crandall, counselor for the Hospitality Association, which represents park concessionaires. “Our nation’s leaders – regardless of party – can’t allow differences on other issues to obscure the unifying force of our national parks.”

So far, however, national parks and the environment have not been part of the presidential campaigns. On the congressional side, great attention has been attracted by efforts in the House of Representatives to sweep aside dozens of environmental laws in the name of border security.

The poll released this morning, though, would seem to indicate the politicians should be paying more attention to the health of the National Park System and working to improve it. Among key findings:

* When voters are asked to think about the major national parks such as Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and the Everglades National Park, nearly nine in 10 (88%) say it is extremely important (59%) or quite important (29%) for the federal government to protect and support those parks.

* The importance for federal protection for national parks is evident across party lines, with strong majorities of Democrats (92%), independents (90%), and Republicans (81%) saying it is extremely or quite important for the federal government to protect and support national parks.

* Nearly nine in 10 (86%) respondents say they are very or fairly interested in visiting national parks in the future, including 83% of Hispanic voters and 89% of voters under 30.

* 95% of voters agree that protecting and supporting national parks is an appropriate role for the federal government today, and this sentiment is shared by Democrats (98%), independents (93%), and Republicans (91%).

* Only 6% of voters think national parks are generally in good shape, a view held by similar proportions of Democrats, independents, and Republicans. By contrast, the vast majority of voters think national parks face minor (46%) or major (25%) problems.

* Voters are troubled when they learn about the many problems facing national parks as a result of budget cuts. They are particularly concerned, for example, when they read that insufficient funding has resulted in closed or unprotected parks and historic sites (this concerns 80% of voters overall; 46% of voters a great deal). Other troubling problems are inadequate guest services and amenities (76% overall; 40% a great deal), historic buildings and cultural resources in disrepair (74% overall; 37% a great deal), and a maintenance backlog that exceeds several billion dollars (74% overall; 35% a great deal).

* Only 4% of voters overall, and 7% of Republicans, think the federal government is spending too much on national parks. By contrast more than a third (35%) suspect we are spending too little, 23% say we are spend the right amount, and a plurality (38%) do not know enough to say.

* More than three in four (77%) voters say it is very or fairly important for the next president to ensure that parks are fully restored and ready to serve and be relevant to this country for another hundred years.

Voters Want Parks Protected For Their Enjoyment

The poll also found that more than 80 percent of those likely to vote this fall have visited a national park at some point in their lives, and nearly nine in 10 say they are interested in visiting a park in the future, and 60% want to stay overnight in a park lodge.

"National parks are viewed as embodying the American experience, and voters want to see them enjoyed, honored, cherished, and cared for, not left to crumble into disrepair," the NPCA and NPHA said in a joint release.

National parks are a top tourist draw but are a very small part of the federal budget -- less than 1/13th of one percent. Yet they support $31 billion in private-sector spending and 258,000 jobs each year, the release pointed out.

And as the National Park Service approaches its centennial in 2016, a majority of likely voters (77 percent) say it is important for the next president to ensure that parks are fully restored and ready to serve and be relevant to future generations in their second century.

Voters Oppose More Cuts To Park Funding

The poll offers important information as the Administration and Congress consider additional cuts to national parks through the annual appropriations process and the looming across-the-board cut known as “sequestration,” scheduled for January 2013.

The National Park Service could face cuts of as much as 10 percent that would reduce seasonal park rangers and potentially close visitor centers, campgrounds and even some entire national park sites, according to NPCA and NPHA.

The survey was conducted by Hart Research Associates and North Star Opinion Research from June 12-17, 2012, among a national sample of 1,004 registered voters.

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National Park Poll.pdf994.56 KB

Comments

The way to truly support and protect the National Parks for the long term is to rein-in the out of control National Park Service. This bureaucracy is so top-heavy, development-oriented, inefficient and wasteful that I doubt half of the NPS budget actually reaches the field level.

For example, I was told by a Rainier supervisory ranger that it takes over three years for a simple road sign ("End Chain Requirement") to be approved by the various regional and national offices! Olympic is spending $1.1 million, about a tenth of their annual budget, on a trail bridge at Staircase where all previous bridges have been destroyed by floods or heavy snow. The national maintenance backlog is a self-inflicted wound due to the top priority NPS managers always give to new development at the expense of existing facilities.

The bloated federal government is utterly unsustainable, including the National Park Service. Like it or else, smaller budgets are coming. There is no need to lay off field staff or close facilities; just retire the high-rollers in D.C. and the Regional Offices and end new development.

Tahoma, well said....

That poll is meaningless. Ask the voters how much they are willing to have their taxes increased to increase support for the national parks. I think you would get a very different picture.

As a former long time NPS employee, I can say that overall funding levels are not the problem. The NPS as a whole is a lavishly funded organization. A bloated bureaucracy, incompetent management, and priorities warped beyond belief are the problems. The NPS exists to operate and maintain the National Parks, period. Upper management seems to be using the parks as advertisements for the NPS, with a singleminded focus on increasing the agency's budget and their individual power. There is no emphasis on operations any more, as a field employee in a park, you get the feeling that we are just considered an expensive annoyance, getting in the way of all the efforts to move the NPS out of the parks and into wider society, "bringing the parks to the people" (see the "Call to Action"). This organization needs a massive house cleaning, and a reorienting back to the parks, before it is given any more tax dollars.

I read the remarks from 11:44 with interest. It seems that I remember very clearly hearing the same arguments clear back in the 70's. These arguments can probably be found raging in every government agency from the smallest county road department right up through the biggest of all at the Pentagon.

There is probably a lot of truth to many of them.

The big question then, is how to find a solution. I'm afraid that as long as the Almighty Dollar is in there to even the slightest degree, solving the mess will evade us. People are people and a thirst for power and prestige seems to be in our genetic makeup. Add a hankering for wealth to that and we get what we have now.

Lee: The "Fourth" branch of Government (the people) often get what they elect, deserve and allow and with the dumbing down of the culture, without a wakeup call, what can you expect?

I agree with Lee that these seem to be commonplace problems with public agencies and that finding a solution is difficult. Economists have said that the problem of monopoly is often insoluble, and an agency that has responsibility for certain operations usually has a monopoly in that area and frustrates people. (This explains why some people like school vouchers and charter schools; they see a chance to undermine that general rule with regard to their children's education.) There may be no solution, and perhaps we must take comfort in the apparent fact that the parks are pretty good overall, even if they might be better under some other theoretical administrative system that as a practical matter cannot be implemented.

I agree fully with anon at 2:15 and with imtnbke. I also got to thinking that perhaps this isn't limited to only governmental bodies. It is often alive and disturbingly well in virtually all aspects of our lives. Whether it is private business, Wall Street, banking, a small bakery, high school cheerleaders, even a neighborhood social club or homeowners association.

Maybe it is just part of the humanity of all of us to seek for rewards or prestige or power in some way. So perhaps imtnbke is correct in saying there may be no solution -- as long as we allow humans like ourselves to participate in life.

I guess it just goes to prove what I've believed for a long time now -- that the world would be a lot nicer place without all those people in it. Or maybe we need to dissolve some dehydrated humility in our drinking water reservoirs.

Well, Anon at 11:44 is wrong about one thing. The NPS does not exist just to manage our National Park System. There are a host of programs that the NPS manages, directed to by the Congress, that have little to do with NPS areas. I am referring to programs such as the National Register of Historic Places, rails to trails, grants for historic preservation, HABS (the Historic American Buildings Survey), HAER (the American Engineering Record), etc. Many communities have open spaces made possible by grants from the NPS.

Rick

It seems that all agencies, from the smallest to the biggest one, initially start with a desire to achieve a well defined mission, but over time morph into a bureaucracy mostly interested into sustaining itself. We have a very clear case of this in the SF bay area. The older park district is a mini version of the NPS, while the newest park district is still agile, in tune with its mission (providing parks that can be enjoyed by the taxpayers that fund them) and gets more done with a much smaller budget.

I'm not sure that there is a solution unfortunately. Maybe having private companies bid on managing the parks would help?

Solutions have been posted here, but they fell on deaf ears.

Chief, I read the solutions and I'm sure they're working. I just don't believe they address the real issue of pricing a good below its market value.

Zebulon, I agree. As a passive reader of this site for years, I have read arguments here for making parks accountable, locally operated, and self-sufficient. That would address the real issue of pricing.

For sure it the responsibility of the Federal Government to safeguard and support national parks. As you can see the amount of taxes Government is taking from us is a lot. In response we expect that all the basic facilities and must be provided by Government. A similar poll suggested that preserving the heritage and culture is also Government's responsibility. This is our right after all we pay heavy taxes.