September 14, 2020
The Honorable David Bernhardt
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C St. NW Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Bernhardt,
We are writing on behalf of over 1,800 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), a non-profit organization composed of retired, former, or current employees of the National Park Service (NPS). The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s national park system. As a group we collectively represent over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting America’s most precious and important natural and historic resources. Among our members are former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.
We are writing to encourage the Department of the Interior to provide for an objective and transparent process of administering funds from The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). Specifically, we urge you to share details of the criteria for selecting projects and we ask that public reporting following the allocation and expenditure of funds be fully transparent. Funding decisions should be based on merit, consistent with the purposes for which these funds were appropriated, and not politics.
We ask that you ensure that funds are allocated appropriately and fairly to address not only the backlog of deferred maintenance that is crippling our parks and public lands, but Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) projects. LWCF is the most important source of federal funding to establish and protect national parks, state and local parks and forests, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management lands. And the intent and spirit of GAOA demands that LWCF funds be directed to LWCF programs and purposes mentioned in accordance with the Act.
In addition, the John D. Dingell Conservation, Management and Recreation Act that permanently authorized LWCF, specifically focuses on allocation of LWCF’s annual dedicated $900 million among 9 appropriated programs funded under LWCF – at least 40% for federal land acquisition, divided among each of the four federal land management agencies, and at least 40% for five distinct state and local grant programs (State and Local Assistance, Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, the American Battlefield Protection Program , the Highlands Conservation Act and the Forest Legacy Program).
The President is required to submit to Congress, no later than November 2, 2020, a “detailed account, program, and project allocations” for the FY 2021 LWCF funding provided in the Act. We request that the Administration provide the submission within that time period and honor the specific congressional intent behind this groundbreaking statute. It is important that Congress receive agency submissions for the needs under these programs, in accordance with these parameters and timing requirements, to allow Congress a full opportunity to approve or modify the proposed allocations for FY 2021.
The Great American Outdoors Act is a landmark piece of legislation. The funds should be spent wisely consistent with NEPA, the Historic Preservation Act, and other important environment and cultural compliance laws. We are aware that over the years contracting, planning and engineering capacity has diminished due to a lack of funding. While we urge timeliness and transparency in order to ensure that our national parks and public lands can maximize the benefits from this funding, we also want to ensure the proper processes are adhered to.
Chair, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Margaret Everson, Counselor to the Secretary, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director
Rob Wallace. Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations
Senator Tom Udall, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Appropriations
Representative Betty McCollum, Chair, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations
Representative David Joyce, Ranking Member, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations