More Federal Dollars Proposed for Parks, Time to Celebrate?

The good news: Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 includes $2.4 billion for the National Park Service, $230 million more than he requested in the 2007 budget. The '08 budget would represent the largest ever funding increase for the NPS, and would allow for 500 permanent employees and 3000 seasonal positions to return to the parks, 1000 each in interpretation, maintenance, and law enforcement. And on top of it all, the additional funding this year is just the beginning. By the time the Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016, the additional funding could top $3 billion! The president is feeling good about this one, and he wants you to know about it. Tomorrow he'll be speaking in Shenandoah National Park to give us all the happy details, and ensure that he will forever be known as the first green president of the 21st century. You can read the government's synopsis of the Interior Budget here: "DOI Budget Review" [pdf]

The announcement has generated some excitement. The National Parks and Conservation Association press release today expresses this: "[The NPCA] today strongly praised the Administration's fiscal year 2008 budget request for the National Park Service as an excellent step toward restoring the national parks and the experiences of visitors in them by the parks' centennial."

The bad news: Could there be bad news? Would I be just another party pooping cynical blogger if I had bad news to share? Well, it must be said, that there are those out there that are wondering where all this extra money is coming from. After all, taxes for the rich are down, and Bush's proposed war spending in Iraq is up and could reach $600 billion before we're done. So, that money's got to come from somewhere else in the federal system, and there is some evidence that it comes at the expense of other public lands. As expressed by Bill Wade, quoted at the National Parks Traveler, it's a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The US Forest Service budget isn't so rosy. They've been asked to raise $800 million through lands sales to support conservation education and access to public lands (how can you increase access to public lands when those lands are being sold?) But in the same budget, they've been asked to increase timber subsidies to $408 million. Says Carl Pope of the Sierra Club, "the Bush administration has no business auctioning [Forest Service lands] off to the highest bidder for a short term fix." The Bureau of Land Management is under the same gun. They've been asked to sell our land to raise $334 million over 10 years.

But, what I find probably most troubling is that a lot of the money for the new National Park budget is coming from the private sector. If you've got another minute, bounce on over to the House Committee on Natural Resources and read its press release today from chairman Nick Rahall. Representative Rahall has some pretty interesting words regarding the proposed NPS budget. The release says that a majority of the budget is dependent on the passage of other legislation that requires matching dollar-for-dollar donations from the public! Park Service director Mary Bomar confirmed this in a statement yesterday, "[the new budget] includes $100 million of discretionary funds for parks each year and up to $200 million a year within the Centennial Initiative, which would provide $100 million a year to match donations for signature projects and programs." So, as I understand this, the new budget is actually only $100 million more than last year, but up to $200 million more could be available if we the people choose to partner with our government above and beyond our current tax commitment and provide $100 million in additional matching funds. Says Rahall in his release,
While many Americans value the role of private philanthropy in supporting our National Park System, the Administration's increasing reliance on the private sector in this capacity is troubling. Our National Parks are national treasures ' and their funding is a national responsibility.

The Rahall release also states that the additional NPS operations money in the new budget has been shifted out of the existing NPS budget for construction.