An Update on National Park Storm Damage

I like the National Parks and Conservation Association. I've talked about the work they've done for our parks on this site before. I think one of the most important things we can do for our National Parks is to talk about them, to constantly ask the question, "are we on the right track towards the continued preservation of these places?" As I understand it, the NPCA is respected for their work by both Democrats and Republicans in DC. And so, in that light, I'd like to pass on a little work they've been doing behind the scenes to fix the millions of dollars worth of storm damage that occurred to the Mt Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks in a short 3 day stretch in November.

The NPCA, along with a group of other conservation organizations, have written a letter to Representative Norm Dicks of Washington, thanking him for the work he's done finding federal funds to fix some of the damage. The note continues though with the reminder that the job isn't yet done.

Says the letter, "we urge Congress to ask the Federal Highway Administration to allocate the remaining funds necessary to repair damage to park roads, as well as pass a supplemental appropriations bill authorizing the reconstruction of critical park infrastructure and focus on funding the significant restoration that has yet to be quantified in the backcountry."

If the letter does nothing more than remind Rep. Dicks that there are a lot of people counting on him to safeguard the parks as Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Committee, it will have done its job. And for that, I am thankful for the work of the NPCA.

BUT ... I don't wish to upset my friends within the NPCA, but I've got a bone to pick. Last week the President released his budget for 2008, which includes a boost of $258 million for park operations (more than Fiscal Year 2006), and up to $200 million more as part of the Centennial Challenge. This combo of funds would represent an additional $300M a year for the next ten years, or $3 billion in new park money. And, as I said in my last post, while the numbers appear very exciting on the surface, doing some digging reveals that some caveats are involved. Criticism for the budget is coming from all corners; from the conservative, from the New York Times, from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and from the Sierra Club to name a few. So why did NPCA Director Tom Kiernan give the plan such a whole hearted ringing endorsement without even a hint of the concern shown by other groups? Says Kiernan in this press release, ""we applaud the President and Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne for their leadership and strong advocacy for the national parks, the Administration's Centennial Challenge, and this budget proposal." As a friend has suggested to me, maybe this is how the NPCA remains on such friendly terms with politicians in DC. Or maybe it's a matter of keeping your friends close, but keeping your enemies closer? Or perhaps its a matter catching flies with honey instead of vinegar? Or perhaps ... well, you get the picture. Either way, it sends a mixed message to those of us following park management and conservation from afar, especially when the only other group to endorse the plan so fully is the American Recreation Coalition -- not exactly the ideal group to be in bed with if your the NPCA.

Back to the storm damage story: If you'd like to follow the progress of the storm recovery team, they've set up a blog. Have a look: NW Parks and Public Lands Storm Recovery Coalition


Please note that NPCA is enthusiastic about the Administration's proposed increase for national park operations. As we all know, the parks' operating budget has been hurting for years, and this requested increase of $258 million would take a big step forward. There is no reason why any park advocate would not support this opportunity to put rangers back into our parks and help parks like Gettysburg and Mesa Verde and Acadia regain their footing. And the New York Times did support the operating increase in their editorial.

NPCA is advocating that Congress approve this operating budget request and provide additional funding for national park land acquisition needs. Congress will debate other elements of the Administration's proposal, including the philanthropic match.

I thank you very much for taking the time to comment. Maybe I should have contacted the NPCA first before airing my concern on the blog. As stated in the piece, I have a lot of respect for the work you all are doing on behalf of parks.

You are correct, having re-read the NYT editorial this morning, I see that the piece questions the President's record as an environmentalist, less than it criticizes the park budget. I should have used a different article to make the point.

As an enthusiastic supporter of the parks, I would have to disagree that there is no room for criticism of the NPS budget the President sent to Congress. The $258M increase in operations is awesome. Operations may be the most important line item in the whole NPS budget. As you say, those dollars represent the return of park rangers in the field. The problem is that the whole NPS proposed budget for FY08 is only $47M more than FY06. That means of the $258M increase in operations, $211M have been moved out of other NPS projects. Specifically, this means a cut of $51.5M from the Historic Preservation Fund, and a cut of $135M from Construction -- cuts of which the NPCA has highlighted in an FY08 Fact Sheet

Can these programs be cut without hurting the conservation mission of the agency? I am not in a position where I can answer that, but I would hope an advocate with resources like the NPCA would. This is at the heart of my criticism of Kiernan's statement regarding the new budget. The possibility of new money for parks is indeed worthy of celebration, but in his position as NPCA President, I wish he would have expressed some caution in his tone (as others have done) before claiming "victory" and applauding both Bush and Kempthorne for their leadership.