The Tinder Box
Back in 2006 the National Park Service had an annual budget of $2.2 billion which was supposed to cover construction projects as well as its annual operational costs. Worse yet, when inflation was factored into the operational budget, the Park Service had less funding during 2005 than it did in 2001. [ConAff] The Bush Administration and its Republican allies in Congress found nothing wrong with raising park fees (up to $25.00 at Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon) and shutting down visitor centers (Rocky Mountain NP).
So, Glacier National Park no longer provided potable water at three campgrounds, Yosemite NP which once had 45 seasonal rangers cut back to 8, Acadia NP didn’t fill 14 jobs for educational guides and law enforcement officers. Acadia also cut 20 ranger led interpretive programs. In a move that should have provoked some patriotic reaction in a flag lapel pin wearing Congress, the Gettysburg National Military Park cut staff tasked with maintaining more than 100 historic structures, including the Civil War cannons. [ConAff]
After all, the former President and his allies in Congress argued, the National Park Service could raise fees and auction off concessions, and the National Forest Service could raise funds by selling off “unwanted” federal lands and collecting fees from logging and other extraction operations.
This situation stood in stark contrast to the campaign pledge Mr. Bush made in a stop along the Skykomish River in Monroe, WA during his 2000 run. Bush blamed the “Clinton-Gore administration for letting the maintenance lag in the 390 unit National Park System. He told his audience that he would eliminate withing five years (by 2005) the NPS’s $4.9 billion major maintenance and resource protection backlog. [DeseretNews] The National Park Service is responsible for 22,000 campgrounds, 21,000 buildings, 17,000 miles of trails, 10,000 miles of roads, 5,000 homes, and 3,000 water treatment facilities. Maintenance actually fared better under “Clinton-Gore.”
During the second Clinton term (FY98-FY01) funding for programs addressing the backlog of park maintenance projects for facilities, construction, and demonstration programs, showed an average increase of 12.8% annually. Funding for the backlog during the Bush Administration increased only 7.4% annually for the same programs. If 12.8% didn’t make a dent in the maintenance backlog, then 7.4% certainly wasn’t going to. Although the Facility Condition Index project isn’t complete, it already indicates that approximately $3 billion will be needed to restore appropriate park facilities to their “designated conditions.” Note, that the maintenance backlog isn’t the only problem, the NPS was significantly behind the curve in terms of its operating budget, by about $600 million. [NPCA]
By 2007 the NPS had a summary available for Congressional testimony concerning its backlog. Of the 15,466 buildings under the jurisdiction of the NPS it would take about $1.3 billion to take care of their deferred maintenance. Overdue trail maintenance would cost about $469 million, and another $4.3 billion would be needed to bring NPS roads up to standard condition. [NPT] Needless to say, one doesn’t have to resort to “naming rights” for national parks and raising fees for visits, our government could be putting out requests for bids from interested construction companies to perform the building and road maintenance; and, their management could be out hiring workers.
Meanwhile back in the Forest: The House version of H.R. 1 called for spending $1.7 billion for “projects to address critical deferred maintenance needs within the National Park System, including roads, bridges, trails and for other critical infrastructure projects. Including $200 million for the preservation and repair of historical and cultural resources within the NPS. Even the $1.7 billion the GOP decried as “too wasteful” didn’t come near the $4.3 billion actually needed to repair current NPS roads and bridges.
The National Forest Service would have gotten $650 million for reconstruction, capital improvements, decommissioning, and maintenance of forest roads, bridges and trails, alternative energy technologies, energy efficiency enhancement and deferred maintenance at Federal facilities, remediation of abandoned mine sites, removal of fish passage barriers, and other critical habitat, forest improvement, and watershed enhancement on Federal lands and waters. [HR 1] The Republicans mocked these expenditures as “fishy” and “wasteful” while never actually declaring their opposition to the improvement and preservation of natural resources. To hear them tell it, they are “outdoor enthusiasts,” “gun owners who love to hunt” and “conservationists,” but ask them to actually vote in favor of specific measures to enhance those opportunities for others and they deride the proposals as “wasteful spending,” as if everyone could enjoy the so-called benefits of membership in the Safari International canned hunt club.
Fanning the Fires
As we’ve noticed previously in National Mall, National Disgrace, maintenance of National Park Service facilities in Washington D.C. hasn’t been appropriately funded. Making the matter worse is the fact that the National Mall and Washington Monument constitute only 2% of the property for which the NPS is responsible in the D.C. area. About 93% of the property managed is in the form of parks and parkways. A GAO audit of the parks in the D.C. area was generally positive, but also indicated some ongoing issues such as the closed marina at the Anacostia park, which was closed in 2000 because of lead contamination and had still not reopened. The GAO accessed facilities in East Potomac Park (Haines Point) and Theodore Roosevelt Island in “serious” condition, Those rated “poor” included Fort Bayard Park, Montrose Park, West Potomac Park athletic fields, Fort DuPont Park picnic area, Anacostia Park, and The Mall & L’Enfant Square.
In short, if a bill concerns public parks, public lands, and public properties, and doesn’t call for selling, leasing, mining, or logging them…the Republicans aren’t interested.