July 17, 2017
Dear Chairpersons and Ranking Members of Committee on Appropriations:
I am writing to you on behalf of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. The Coalition is composed of over 1,300 members who are current and former employees of the National Park Service. Our collective experience and these comments reflect nearly 40,000 years of combined service. Our mission is to advocate for all national park areas and effective stewardship of them.
The purpose of this letter is to express our opposition to the House FY18 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that includes funding cuts and policy riders that would impact our national parks and their ecosystems. Over the years the budget for our national parks has continued to decline resulting in significant reductions in the parks’ ability to maintain its aging infrastructure, protect and preserve our country’s cultural and natural resources, and to provide visitors with the kind of experience the National Park Service is known for.
Our national parks are more popular than ever and they continue to be an important part of our nation’s economy. National park visitation generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016, a $2.9 billion increase from 2015, and supported 318,000 jobs. Our national parks need and deserve federal resources that support visitors, businesses and the natural and cultural resources. By investing in our parks, Congress is supporting the economies of thousands of communities that surround our parks. Further budget reductions will adversely impact not only the visitors’ experience and add to the deferred maintenance problem, it will impact local businesses. As an example, the Blue Ridge Parkway operates 14 visitor centers along its 469 miles that passes through 29 counties in North Carolina and Virginia. Seasonal employees operate most of these visitor centers. A 1% reduction in the parkway’s budget could eliminate all seasonal positions thus closing many of the visitor centers that not only provide services related to the parkway but also direct visitors to local communities. For an investment of less than $20 million dollars annually in the Parkway, the local economies benefit by some $800 million each year. This example is one of many. While 1% seems like a small adjustment, the 1% is on top of years of reductions and loss of staff.
The Coalition is strongly opposed to the any reduction in park operations in the House Interior bill that would, when combined with unavoidable fixed costs, only make it more difficult for parks to meet their mission to protect resources and serve visitors. In addition, the Coalition is strongly opposed to the decrease of $5 million to the successful Centennial Challenge public- private partnership program, the very kind of partnership program that helps restore and modernize our parks by leveraging public funds. The Service has been encouraged to use partnerships to leverage federal funds and park partners have been responsive. While there are limits to use of partnerships and volunteers, it is certainly not the time to limit public/private- funding opportunities.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a critical tool for protecting parks. The Committee is reminded that the LWCF is not only used to buy lands for new parks, it is also used to resolve park issues that have existed for years. Creative methods have been used to maximize the effectiveness of this program and projects are lined up awaiting adequate funds in the LWCF program. Drastic cuts in the amount of funds available will delay execution of many projects and increase costs of these projects over time.
We recognize your ongoing efforts to balance limited resources in a difficult fiscal climate, but our national parks require the necessary federal resources to ensure our parks and the resources within are protected for future generations. Therefore, we are also concerned that the sequester cuts are slated to return. Congress must secure another budget deal to lift nondefense discretionary caps that allow for the investments parks need.
In summary, at a time when visitor demand is at record levels, the House FY18 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill must not include funding cuts and policy riders that would negatively impact our national parks and their ecosystems. The Congress must maintain or increase funding levels for our national parks in its FY18 spending bill without damaging policy riders that would undermine efforts to safeguard our environment, including our national parks. After years of reductions to the NPS budget through direct cuts and absorption of expenses, there must not be further cuts to the budget of the National Park Service and the Congress must secure another budget deal to halt the sequester cuts scheduled to return next fiscal year.
Chair, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (571) 271-1433; firstname.lastname@example.org