A budget plan drafted in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next fiscal year would be crippling to the National Park Service if implemented, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
The bill, approved by the House Interior Appropriations Committee, "continues a trend of eroding the Park Service budget, as well as damaging policy amendments that threaten the health of some national parks," the park advocacy group said in a release.
While the Obama administration has proposed a roughly $2.6 billion FY14 budget for the Park Service, of which $2.2 billion would be destined for the "park operations" sub-category of the agency's budget, the budget drafted by the House committee calls for a total Park Service budget of $2.3 billion, with $2.1 billion devoted to park operations, the category that pays for actual national park management costs.
According to the NPCA release, while the legislation does boost the operations budget line by $24 million above current levels, it nevertheless cuts funding more than $115 million below the dollar amount for park operations that was in place prior to the sequester that forced a roughly 5 percent across-the-board cut on the Park Service.
“This bill demonstrates a clear recognition that national park operations have been cut too much but without the means to provide the National Park Service with the resources it needs to truly protect our parks. It retains damaging sequester funding levels, will continue to limit the ability of the National Park Service to keep visitor facilities open, and will continue to grow the backlog,” said Craig Obey, NPCA's senior vice president for government affairs.
“As long as the Interior appropriations subcommittee continues to receive funding allocations with their roots in fantasy rather than reality, our national parks, historic places and cultural treasures will be at ever-increasing risk. The American people and local businesses that expect and depend upon the parks and park facilities to be open and well-run will get parks that are able to do less, because they have less to work with.”
When accounting for uncontrollable cost increases and the impact of the cuts over the last three years, the amount is insufficient to restore national parks to a reasonable funding level, the group maintained.
“The subcommittee leadership deserves credit for highlighting the critical need for operations funds. But the facts are inescapable that the funding level provided is barely sufficient to maintain the parks in their present, budget-depleted state,” said Mr. Obey. “At these funding levels, without a larger agreement to address the core drivers of our federal budget mess, our national parks and other public lands are likely to be in even worse shape next year.”
The draft budget bill eliminates funding for land acquisition, "critical to preventing incompatible development within national parks, and provides another cut to the park construction budget," the NPCA release pointed out, adding that 'though the Park Service deferred maintenance backlog has grown to more than $11 billion, the bill cuts the Park Service construction budget by nearly $18 million, or 14 percent below last year.
"This kind of budgeting is simply unsustainable," the NPCA official said.
The legislation also contains policy provisions that threaten to undermine the protection of the parks’ air and water resources. One policy provision NPCA supports is a proposed one-year extension of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, to ensure that the parks do not lose access to the recreation and entrance fees they collect.