The Senate's Energy and Natural Resources committee met last Thursday, July 25th to discuss funding for the national parks and how budget cuts are impacting America's most special places.
By the end of 2012, the National Park Service's (NPS) maintenance was backlogged by $11.5 billion, according to testimony that Director Jarvis gave to the committee. In order to keep it at that level, he said, Congress will need to spend $700 million per year, quite a bit more than the $444 million available last year. Sequestration has further devastated the agency this year, causing some parks to close visitor centers and campgrounds, shorten hours and seasons, and make other necessary reductions in services.
Given these circumstances, the NPS has been considering alternative ideas for future funding such as:
- creating more partnerships with private funding sources
- raising entrance fees
- instituting a penny increase in gas taxes
- establishing an endowment with matching government contributions for the agency's centennial.
Some senators raised doubts about whether the parks should be striving for more land acquisition when they have a large deficit, but others countered that in some cases having more land actually decreases maintenance costs. Some members also argued that the Land and Water Conservation Fund should go towards NPS maintenance, while others asserted that they require separate solutions. The Wilderness Society will continue to work with legislators to help create solutions for both that keep these lands protected and available for public enjoyment.
Watch this video of NPS Director Jarvis addressing the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources committee:
Just two days before the Senate subcommittee meeting, a House subcommittee voted to propose a funding bill for 2014 that unfortunately would perpetuate strain further for parks. Although it provides a $24 million increase over current sequester levels, that is still over $115 million below funding levels prior to the sequester. It also makes it more difficult to acquire more land, and therefore to prevent development, according to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
National parks are investments that boost our economy and produce jobs, in addition to offering numerous other benefits. They generate over $30 billion in economic activity and over a quarter million jobs annually. Still, funding has declined 13 percent in the past three years and the construction budget has declined by almost 66 percent in the past decade. Congress needs to support the agency they have tasked with caring for America's treasured lands so that these lands can continue to support America's communities.