Legislation Introduced To Let States Manage National Parks, Other Public Lands

In a move not entirely surprising, U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska has proposed legislation to create a mechanism for states to take over management of national parks and other federal lands.

It's not surprising in that a number of states -- Utah, Colorado, Arizona, South Dakota, New York, and Tennessee -- stepped up last week to underwrite the costs of reopening parks in their states during the government shutdown.

As written, the legislation would require a state to put up at least 50 percent of the costs of running the national park in question to have its petition considered by the Interior secretary. If a state provided 55 percent of the costs of operation, it would receive 55 percent of the revenues that park generated. States would not be given title to the land.

States that gain such authority could relinquish it by writing the Interior secretary and asking to be relieved of its authority. The secretary also could void the agreement if the state defaults on payments or is found to have breached its agreement.

Introduced this past Tuesday, the bill has no cosponsors.

Comments

Ouch!

It was very nice that the states stepped up to reopen the national parks during the shutdown but that is not a permanent solution. These are National Parks for a reason. They belong to everyone. The states do not have the money or the vision to operate national parks into the future.

In Western North Carolina, we're very aware that the large national parks are on either end of the state and the population lives in the Piedmont, in the middle. That's why we have state parks sprinkled all over the state. I can see our state legislators saying that it takes four hours to five hours to drive from Raleigh to the Smokies. So why should he/she fund the parks?

Our state parks have been threatened with shutdowns too.

Let's get proper funding for the national parks on a federal level.

Semi-related opinion piece, with often interesting comments.

Five Myths about National Parks

Young is our village idiot, who has somehow become congressman-for-life.

You mean like (Senator) Bernie Sanders or (Congressperson) Sheilah Jackson Lee?

Well said, Danny.

Not unexpected from someone who represents special interests and would love to see our national parks open to rape and pillage by timber, oil, ATV manufacturers, and other groups that want to line their corporate pockets at the expense of natural wonders. There are some very good reasons states do NOT have control over national parks, and people like Young represent most of them.

@MikeG and justinh: At least they're not trying to turn over our national treasures to the highest bidder. The main reason Young and his ilk want state control over national parks is so that Republican-controlled states can eviscerate the federal rules that protect the parks for everyone, not special interests.

"Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress...but I repeat myself" Mark Twain.

my point was that there are a lot of very low performing people in Congress from every party, even "independents"... it's not something that is particularly related to party.... I really get bored with those who think that they know every motivation for someone, especially if they disagree with them...

It's not suprising that this kind of legislation is introduced by Don Young, one of the last holdouts against the Alaska National Intrest Lands Conservation Act. And, it will get some support from the most conservative members of his caucus.

The realiity is that most states could not afford to manage the number of NPS areas within their boundaries. My state, NM, one of the nation's poorest, has 14 NPS ;areas. It can barely support its state park system. In my opinion, this is a non-starter but it will get a lot of blah blah in the next several months. I am curious how Young plans to support the huge national parks areas in his state.

Rick

Not a surprise. There were at least 3 bills introduced in both the House and the Senate following the November 1995 shutdown that would have involved states in some capacity to keep the National Parks open during federal government shutdowns.

Young introduced a bill, The National Parks and Wildlife Refuge Freedom Act of 1995, that during a government shutdown the Interior Secretary would have to accept the donation of state employees to run a National Park or Wildlife Refuge from any state that offered such a donation. That bill had 13 cosponsors from both parties. The debate over the bill on the House floor in December 1995, had Young at one point referring to NPS actions during the shutdown as "Gestapo".

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-1995-12-12/pdf/CREC-1995-12-12-pt1-PgH14281-2.pdf#page=2

In the Senate, McCain introduced a similar bill just for National Parks in early December with 2 cosponsors. There was also a similar House bill introduced by Bob Stump of Arizona with 5 cosponors. These two bills never made it out of committee, only Young's bill made it to the floor for a vote.

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?r104:1:./temp/~r104JhnH33:e2672:

pauletteb,

I'm inclined to agree. (Was I really the intended audience for your comment?)

As others have suggested, one of Young's key goals seems to be found in this part of the bill:

"(h) Applicability of State Law on Qualifying Federal Lands Under Cooperative Agreement- State environmental, wildlife, and land management laws shall supercede Federal environmental, wildlife, and land management laws on the qualifying Federal lands administered by a State under a cooperative agreement in place under this section to the extent that such laws are more restrictive than the corresponding Federal laws."

Were it to pass, lawyers will likely be among the beneficiaries of this bill; just a few court cases could arise from disputes about whether state or federal laws were "more restrictive" for a given situation.

Nice read, Jim.

I believe many states would be desirous if not having National Parks in their states be under the command of this President particularly after it's been shown that he is willing to use the Parks for his political aims. Isn't that a crime of some sort in a normal world?

Jim

As i read that, the section calls for tougher laws. Seems to be contrary to all the prior chicken little claims here.

I think this is an important part:

“State may claim authority over and responsibility for management of Federal lands located in the State without claiming ownership of the land, and for other purposes.”

The first bolding would seem to be an end run around the Property and the Supremacy Clauses.

I wonder what effect this Act would have on SCOTUS decisions such as Kleppe v. New Mexico?

The second bolding is very troublesome. Does it include land sales and/or development? I would suspect the answer is yes, as the state would have 'controlling interest.' I also suspect that is the real driving force behind this bill and its requirement of greater than 50% investment. I'm surprised Utah hasn't signed on, though they want total control and ownership, and may not settle for "authority over."

These were some of Young's comments regarding the Park Service this past May:

"Having the states run the national parks would save money and would and also give local residents a closer-to-home official with whom to air complaints, Young said. As he envisions it, states should have the option of taking over if they are able to run the parks on half the budget that the park service spent the previous season."

http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/rep-young-states-running-national-parks-would-save-money/article_1f079ac6-b3c7-11e2-819f-0019bb30f31a.html

This legislation seems to reflect his sentiments.

ec - my point was that lawyers on both sides of these issues would have a field day with this one. What constitutes a "tougher law" (state vs. federal) is subject to interpretation, especially when it comes to items such as oil and gas activity, logging and mining. If there isn't a specific law dealing with that activity in a specific park, would any state law regulating that activity in that location be more "restrictive," and therefore the law that applies?

Some of that debate would center around the bill itself. Does Rep. Young intend to mean "laws" in the narrow sense (Acts of Congress, signed by the President) or in the broader sense that includes "regulations" (written by agencies to implement the provisions of laws.)?

The wording of "laws" that cover national parks (such as 16 U.S.C. § 1a-1) tends to be rather broad, while regulations (such as 36 CFR ) offer more specific guidance.

Then there's the potential for lengthy legal wrangling over the "congressional intent" of Mr. Young's bill. His intention is clearly for the states to be in control of public land decisions - and revenue. If you consider potential income from sale of oil and gas, other minerals and timber from public lands in Alaska alone, you're talking some serious money.

One has to wonder if this bill isn't primarily political grandstanding by Young, who sees an opportunity based on the recent shutdown controversy to score points with some his constituents.


seem to be an end run around the Property and the Supremacy Clauses


That is quite the stretch. States already have authority over and responsibility for management of State Parks. Would you claim that Federal law is not supreme in those?

BTW - I have seen folks claim the states wouldn't have the funding to maintain a National Park. Anybody have the number for the capital improvement deficit at state parks?

In Nebraska, we had to close some State Parks for the fall and winter months to meet parks budget. This is the first time I can remember this happenning. Many people were upset.

West Virginia State Parks:(6.6M visitors in 2012)

"Nearly 200 of the park system's almost 1,500 buildings are 75 years or older, Depression-era structures included in the backlog of needed repairs. A legislative audit recommended infusing at least $3 million each year for major repairs to chip away at maintenance and renovations that total tens of millions of dollars."

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/science/article/Lawmakers-review-funding-needs-for-W-Va-parks-4909544.php

According to this WV legislature bill, the maintenance backlog is at least $25M in the state park system.

http://legiscan.com/WV/text/SCR57/id/816940/West_Virginia-2013-SCR57-Introduced.html

http://www.kansascity.com/2013/06/30/4322935/state-parks-fall-victim-to-tight.html

"The nation’s 7,975 state parks sit in a precarious position with shortened seasons, new admissions fees and threatened closures brought on by budget turmoil in recent years."

Maintenance Backlogs:

South Carolina- $155M

Texas -$400M-$700M

New York - $1B

Illinois- $750M

Kansas - $26M

California- $1B+

Missouri- $400M

Looks like at least $4B.

States $4 billion for 7975 units.

NPS $12 billion for 401 units.

State Park backlog in Sara's post only account for 7 states, not 50.

State Park acreage - about 15 million

NPS acreage - about 84 million

Which is all the more reason the NPS should be lower. They have vast quantities of pure wilderness that (should) require little if any maintenance. Designated Wilderness is more than half that acreage.

Anyone have the Park by Park allocation of the NPS maintenance budget?

ec--There is no free lunch. Wilderness has to be patrollled and maintained. I can't believe you somehow think it takes care of itself. SAR in wilderness is a significant expense in and of itself.

Rick

The 2012 North Cascades Business Plan, which includes Lake Chelan NRA and Ross Lake NRA, says deferred maintenance is $20M(pg 17).

http://www.nps.gov/noca/parkmgmt/upload/NOCA_4-30_spreads.pdf

Rick

Seems to me, the definition of Wilderness is that it takes care of itself.

Interesting comment about wilderness taking care of itself. I think to some extent it does. There are no roads but there are facilities, wilderness ranger stations, some wilderness enclaves like High Sierra camps, ski huts, hiker shelters, etc. On the other hand, some wilderness areas receive extensive hiker and pack stock use as well as climbing and winter nordic skiing activities. Here in the Sierra, summer use is high density, primarily backpackers (Yosemite overnight wilderness use is 95% backpackers, this does not include the day hikers, an extremely popular activity). I think that is good, but it does require wilderness permit systems, ranger and interpretive patrols, educational outreach on the need for the regulations in place, solid waste removal in high use areas and extensive trail maintenance efforts including clearing trees, rock slides, water bars for erosion control, etc. Then there are resource management activities including campsite restoration projects, invasive species control, wildlife issues, multiple trail elimination projects, well the list is quite lengthly. There are are some very important research projects, the amphibians issue, climate change monitoring, ecological or managed wilderness natural fire research are examples. Of course there is also course fire suppression and search and rescue responsibilities. I would have to double check my figures, but In Yosemite, as one example, funding for the above is about 5 million plus a year. Funding comes from many sources, for example the City of San Francisco provides some funding for water protection issues in the Tuolumne River drainage, the Yosemite Conservancy (a private non-profit), totally funds the trail maintenance programs. Congressional funding amounts to only about 50% of the total. These figures are very rough estimates but are in line with what the park was spending 10 years ago. It is a difficult balancing act for the park management team, but, in my view, the program is severely underfunded. Without the non-profits, grants, and other outside funding sources, there would be little wilderness management activity happening in the Yosemite wilderness area, roughly 95% of the park.

There are some that think that inherent in the definition of "wilderness" that might be good, in fact some citizens propose wilderness areas be set aside allowing no public use period. I do not agree with that viewpoint, but inherent in public use is the need for management activities such as those outlined above.

,

rmackie - I never claimed there was NO maintanance required. My point, which Rick tried to obfuscate, was that those massive Wilderness and wilderness areas probably have far less infrastructure per acre than your typical state park. It would be interesting to see the numbers. What are the infrastructure investments and what is the maintenance backlog park by park?

EC, I will try to get that information and post it here on traveler.

The wilderness should be managed as wilderness to begin with. In the Smokies, they are ramming fees down our throats despite overwhelming public outcry and the largest government infusion of stimulus funds, (4 times their annual budget) because they answer not to local stakeholders. The NPS operates without oversight and gives the states no say so in their operation. Another reflection of Jon Jarvis and his cronies and their "make them feel the pain" mentality. I've accepted that the NPS culture (at the top end) is irrevocably corrupt and not going to change. Dropping control back to individual states would have some perils in the form of protection from corporate entities and concessionaires. However, at the rate the NPS is going now, the public will have no access to the parks anyway, which is why they restrict backcountry use in the Smokies when backcountry use is on the decline to begin with. The NPS sees humans as the problem and seeks to reduce their numbers in these areas through fees. Local control would fix that problem here in the Smokies. I do not believe that the NPS is underfunded. I believe that they are overbloated on the salary end if you look at all the bureaucratic levels within the system. State parks have very little of that and respond to public input or some local politician will get skewered. Our republican delegation in Tennessee sits on their hands while one particular senator dictates what happens in the Smokies while his son runs a private resort that operates their own trail system in the park. Its business as usual in the NPS and if anyone within the agency complains, then they get Ranger Dannoed! Jarvis brought this on himself and I'm afraid I agree with the proposal.

SmokiesBackpacker, I must admit I agree that charging fees for hiking trails goes against my own bias or feelings about backcountry and wilderness use. I can see reservation fees, entrance and camping fees, but to hike a trail? The argument is that the user of the resource must help pay the freight, but it is a sliping slope. In any case, I know Smokies has a prohibition against charging entrance fees. A tough one to be sure.

Backpacker...

One large paragraph full of a bunch of absolute statements and emotional appeals. I'm not going to piecemeal them out and disprove your absolutisms - many have already been done in these pages. Let me simply state that your sweeping personal opinions are not universally accepted.

The salary range for the Tennesse State Park Director is $72K-$130K. The total acreage of the Tennessee State Park System is 166K acres. Ditmanson is in charge of more than 500k acres in two states and made $170k in 2012.

Twenty National Parks have an acreage of at least 500k. Only 6 states have more than 1/2 million acres in their state park systems. 23 states have between 100k-500k acres and the other 21 have 100k or less.

http://www.tn.gov/dohr/class_comp/pdf/alpha_comp_plan.pdf

http://php.app.com/fed_employees12/search.php

http://www.rff.org/RFF/Documents/RFF-BCK-ORRG_State%20Parks.pdf

http://leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Interim/2011-2012/EQC/Meeting-Documents/January-2012/parks-admin-rocky-mountains.pdf

Sara,

Ditmanson's salary is significant, thanks for sharing. How about the salaries of the "backcountry specialist", chief ranger, assistant superintendent (who is, by the way, the wife of Ditmanson's boss, Gordon Wissinger in Atlanta) and dozens of other top heavy bureaucrats within the system? With a 20 plus million dollar annual budget (Obama stimulus funds notwithstanding) would the state of TN fund a shooting range, automatic rifles, riot gear and three dozen shiny new 4wd vehicles at 40 grand a piece? No. Because they would have to answer to someone, unlike the arrogant bureaucrats at the NPS. And the state of TN deed restricted Newfound Gap road to keep fees from occuring in this donated park. There is a lawsuit pending and if the federal judge doesn't dismiss this case against the federal entitity, many things will be illuminated as to the shady dealings of the NPS and Ditmanson's ilk in these parts. Fees are just a tip of the corrupt iceberg around here.

EC, Yosemite Park backlog maintenance dollars exceed 470 million. If you include the concession operated facilities, (owned by the NPS, like the Ahwahnee Hotel), the figure is 556 million. There maybe be those that question the numbers, but I can tell you there are significant infrastructure issues within the park. It gets quite complicated, as funding comes from many sources including the fee demo programs. Yosemite gets a huge return on fee demo dollars, as it collects both entrance and camping fees. One of the issues, as congressional appropriations continue to be reduced (remember the second round of sequestration is now hitting our parks), pressures mount to increase or find new fees or other sources of revenue. It is a very discombobulating cycle. Could go on and on, but the failure to invest in our parks (and nations) infrastructure needs is very poor policy, at least in my own view.

rmackie - Can you tell us where that number comes from and how it was determined. Is there a specific list of projects with dollar estimates to complete. Is that all maintanence or does that include a wish list of new endevours as well? And most imporatant, why isn't all this info in the public domain. I know that when I had a boss, if I had some project I wanted funded, I darn well would have a detailed analysis of the scope, cost and benefit.

Here's the total dollar amounts of deferred maintenance by park as of Sept 30, 2012:

http://www.ketv.com/blob/view/-/21184798/data/1/-/99vgs4/-/NPS-DM-by-State.pdf

Now Sara - That was very informative - thank you.

It does confirm that the vast wilderness and Wilderness areas like the Alaskan parks have a relatively low deficit compared to their acreage

Two, a large portion of the deficit is represented by a handfull of parks - many of which aren't even "parks" as many would think of them - i.e parkways and the national mall.

Now it would nice to drill down on some of those numbers. Its hard to believe that Yosemite has $400 million of infrastructure to begin with much less that it would need $400 million to maintain it. And the Nachez and Blue Ridge Parkways - is that basically road maintenance?

ecbuck,

From one of the NPS Transportation pages:

Some 90% of all roadway pavement in the parks system is in "fair" to "poor" condition.

28 publicly accessible bridges within the parks transportation system are "structurally deficient"

Approximately 36% of all trails throughout the National Park Service (6,700 miles out of a total of 18,600) are in a "poor" or "seriously deficient" condition

And is "drill down on those numbers" merely a poor choice of words or a more Freudian slip?

From the FY14 Greenbook (pg CONST-34]

"Deferred maintenance of the paved roads and bridges is estimated at $4.7 billion and having a current replacement value of $20 billion. These assets are critical to the NPS mission and are included along with other priority assets in the NPS investment strategies. The Service owns and operates approximately 5,450 paved miles of park roads that are open to the public, the equivalent of 971 paved miles of parking areas, 4,100 miles of unpaved roads that are open to the public, 1,414 bridges, and 63 tunnels."

Ec, I am not that much in the loop. however I do know that all facilities including those in wilderness were surveyed over a three year period, I believe 2007-2010. Actually witnessed some of the work. I believe the data for this is public information, if requested. It needs to said that park budgets are already strained, it takes personnel, xerox time and lots of paper to reproduce this stuff, but some of it maybe on line. One figure I know is that in the concession operated facilities, in particular the Ahwahnee Hotel, the hotel estimated costs for earthquake retrofit exceed 60 million (at least that is what I was told). I can understand your questioning the figures, but overall, having worked up in the park over the past 6 summers, (and 38 years previous to that with a six year break in between), the deterioration of roads, buildings, utilities, sewer lines and treatment plants, water quality treatments, etc. is in much need of upgrade or repair, big time. Much of the employee housing both for the NPS and private sector employees is quite old, some of it dating back to early 1900s, well it is disconcerting to see it. I do not mind responding EC, you ask tough questions but I think you do appreciate the parks. I am sure that some gold platting is involved, but overall I think the park efforts are above board and should be paid attention to, like much of the infrastructure deterioration we are observing nation wide, not only in parks but counties, cities, states.


And is "drill down on those numbers" merely a poor choice of words or a more Freudian slip?


Not a poor choice at all, it is standard nomenclature for someone doing financial analysis.


Deferred maintenance of the paved roads and bridges is estimated at $4.7 billion and having a current replacement value of $20 billion.


Somehow, I think you will get less sympathy for the "parks" if half the deficit is actually rough roads. I think all this points to the fact there just might be too much infrastructure.


Approximately 36% of all trails throughout the National Park Service (6,700 miles out of a total of 18,600) are in a "poor" or "seriously deficient" condition


I have hiked several thousand miles of NPS trails and can't recall a single one I would call in "poor" or "seriously deficient" condition.


Approximately 36% of all trails throughout the National Park Service (6,700 miles out of a total of 18,600) are in a "poor" or "seriously deficient" condition


I believe the NPS. In my experience, this is clearly true.

In the last year, flooding has caused road damage (and trail damage) to Zion, Rocky Mountain, Joshua Tree, Assateague, Cape Hatteras, Smoky Mountain, Cape Lookout, Death Valley, Olympic, Cascades, Mount Rainer, Canyonlands, and Glacier National Parks. And those are just the major parks.To address immediate needs, such as the repairs of the parks listed above, less pressing issues are deferred. And so it goes. Every year, there are uncontrollable weather related events that cause damage. Other maintenance must be deferred to cover the cost. I don't believe it is simply a matter of "rough roads."

ec, lots of trail damage across the park system, as others have noted. Here are some specifics:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/06/update-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-trails-closed-storm-damage-hiker-injured23483

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/05/trails-damaged-f4-tornado-reopened-great-smoky-mountains-national-park23156

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/09/trail-access-rainbow-bridge-national-monument-restored24001

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/07/rocky-mountain-national-parks-fern-lake-trail-damaged-mudslide23640

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/07/man-sentenced-connection-damage-max-patch-bald-appalachian-national-scenic-trail23594

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/09/heavy-rains-hard-grand-canyon-national-park-trails23905

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/09/guadalupe-mountains-national-park-slowly-reopening-after-flood-closures23933

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/08/springhouse-branch-trail-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-closed-horse-use23810

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/09/timpanogos-cave-national-monument-joshua-tree-national-park-also-suffering-flooding-rockslides23897

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/04/popular-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-trails-closed-repairs23121

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2013/04/black-sand-basin-access-yellowstone-national-park-temporarily-closed-boardwalk-repairs23123

And you might recall that Friends of Acadia and Friends of the Smokies both have active trail maintenance programs in their respective parks.