Statement for the Record
Michael B. Murray
Chair of the Executive Council, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
FY 2023 Appropriations for the National Park Service, Department of the Interior
June 8, 2022
Chairman Merkley, Ranking Member Murkowski, and members of the Subcommittee, I am Michael B. (Mike) Murray, Chair of the Executive Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). The Coalition is a non-profit organization composed of more than 2,200 retired, former and current employees of the National Park Service (NPS) who collectively have over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting our national parks. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. We are pleased to have the opportunity to present this statement for the record on the FY 2023 Appropriations for the National Park Service.
The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition) was pleased to see the overall FY 2023 discretionary budget request for the NPS of $3.6 billion from the Biden administration. However, this request is short of what is needed in some key areas because of the significant amount of its former capacity the NPS has lost over the last decade. As Director Sams recently testified before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, the NPS’ operational capacity has been reduced by more than 15 percent since FY 2010 while over the same time Congress has added 33 units to the national park system and visitation has grown by over 40 million visits. This growth has overwhelmed NPS staff and has led to low morale, reduced visitor experiences, and visitor safety concerns. In turn, during the Covid 19 pandemic, parks became an even more treasured refuge for the American public further dramatically increasing visitation pressure in many urban park units. Additionally, inflation of over seven percent during the last year is further challenging parks in meeting their budget needs.
The Coalition believes there are three specific areas where NPS funding needs to be enhanced in the FY 2023 Interior Appropriations bill.
1) Enhancing and Building Operational Capacity. The most important priority is to address the need to replace the lost staff capacity the NPS has seen over the last decade. The Biden administration has included funding to address a part of this shortfall through some specific initiatives for underserved communities, new parks, additions to other parks, and new tribal liaisons, to name a few. The Coalition is strongly supportive of these initiatives; however, we believe the proposed increases miss parks and programs that are still suffering their loss of staff.
Last year, the Coalition recommended that Congress commit to adding an additional 500 new staff for each of five fiscal years to make headway in resolving the lost capacity. Unfortunately, funding constraints did not allow this recommendation to be fulfilled in the final appropriations bill adopted in March.
As a result, the Coalition respectfully requests a recommitment to the goal of providing the needed staff across the board in parks, program offices, and central offices of the NPS. We note that the program offices and central offices have seen their own lost capacity over the past decade and these offices remain critically important, especially to the small- and medium-sized parks that do not have their own specialists on staff. The Coalition recommends an additional $70 million to the operations budget of the NPS (ONPS) to deal with this service-wide staffing issue and we urge the subcommittee to direct that this additional amount be spread as equitably as possible among parks, program offices, and central offices to meet their unmet staffing needs.
It is critical to restore and increase operational capacity to ensure NPS meets its responsibilities because of increasing visitation and major threats to cultural and natural resources. This staff funding is also important to help address the low morale among many park employees who feel that they are being asked to do more with fewer resources while trying to maintain a consistent level of service to the thousands of visitors they experience each year.
Additionally, the Coalition notes its continued support for the NPS proposal to extend the period of availability of funding in the ONPS account to two years, which will allow more efficient management of resources and permit adjustment for disruptions that occur within the fiscal year. This request is consistent with that provided to other bureaus within the Department of the Interior.
2) Natural and Cultural Resource Conservation. The Biden administration’s budget includes a $179.8 million request for the Natural Resources Conservation Initiative in FY 2023. This request takes an important step forward to address the critical challenges of our time by increasing scientific capacity and improving strategic thinking and resource planning to leave lands and waters preserved for future generations to use and enjoy. The Conservation initiative directly supports several priorities that would conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 (the “America the Beautiful” Initiative), would establish a Civilian Climate Corps, and would support climate resilience and adaptation. NPS is a vital component of the government-wide approach to address the impacts of climate change.
Stewardship of our natural resources is a mission critical task for NPS and, as such, the task is ingrained in NPS units, programs, budget activities and appropriations. For natural resource conservation, the FY 2023 budget seeks to bolster existing successful programs protecting wildlife and landscape, fund climate change science and resiliency, and increase resources supporting climate and natural resource decision-making.
The requested increase also includes $29.6 million to engage in high-priority natural resource projects on a range of issues, such as wildlife migration corridors, wildland fire fuels management, climate resilience, and responding to natural resource threats. The Coalition is supportive of both of these natural resource funding requests.
Equally important for the subcommittee is doing something to replace the loss of almost 30 percent of cultural resource management positions in our national parks, and program or regional offices. Many cultural resources, including historic buildings, museum objects, and archeological sites, are unmaintained, severely threatened, or degraded. The Cultural Resource Challenge (Challenge), launched in 2013, provided a strategic framework for NPS stewardship and completing partnership responsibilities for America’s cultural heritage.
Last year, the Coalition recommended additional appropriations over four fiscal years to help complete this Challenge that has only been partially funded since 2013. The president’s budget request for FY 2023 recommends some small increases in cultural resources capacity. We urge an additional $22.5 million be added to the ONPS budget for FY 2023 to make progress toward this effort with $11 million of this amount to increase the number of parks that have at least one cultural resource expert on staff and to ensure the parks have ready access to all basic cultural resource disciplines at the regional level. An additional $9 million of the total would help improve the baseline cultural resource documentation information available to management at a number of parks and the remaining $2.5 million would help stabilize archeological sites, cultural landscapes, and historic and prehistoric structures per year, or conduct preventive conservation on museum objects, or support scientific research on new threats to resources.
We recognize there are issues involved with how park, program and regional offices budgets are constructed and maintained from one year to the next when Congress directs funding to specific areas such as cultural resource protection. We understand the subcommittee has had discussions with the NPS about this and we urge those discussions to continue to find ways that funding can be maintained for cultural resource preservation activities over the longer term to help minimize inconsistent funding year-over-year to ensure adequate cultural resource conservation in our parks and program offices.
3) National Recreation and Preservation (NR&P). Within the president’s budget, various programs such as the National Register of Historic Places, the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance, and several grant programs including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation, Japanese American Confinement Sites, and National Heritage Areas, are funded under this account.
The Coalition notes that these programs are critical to the partnership work of the National Park Service and they need adequate staff to fulfill their partnership responsibilities in a timely manner. Last year the Coalition noted specifically the need for increases in this account for managing the national historic preservation program for administration of their related grant programs, documentation of nationally significant threatened resources, increased grants to support new preservation technology, and development of guidance to assist public and private owners in meeting the threats of a changing climate, as just one example. The Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, which provides technical support to local conservation and outdoor recreation projects, is also in need of additional funding to keep up with the increasing demands upon its program related to increased LWCF state grants and the 30×30 initiative.
Additional funding is required to ensure each of these programs can maintain the level of service provided by NPS and to meet the increasing demands for NPS assistance from their state and local partners. The Coalition recommends an additional $3 million to this account in order for the NPS to fulfill its historic and cultural resource responsibilities as well as its partnership assistance duties.
We end our statement by noting our support for the administration’s request to improve coordination with Tribal nations by supporting additional Tribal liaisons, for its request for the continuing work of the Historic Preservation Fund to preserve historically and culturally significant sites and provide competitive grants to other, non-Federal entities, and for the NPS Construction budget request, which complements the funding provided by the Great American Outdoors Act. We particularly support the recommendation of $7.9 million for new construction or rehabilitation of existing employee housing, which is needed throughout the park system where affordable housing for purchase or rent is limited. Providing affordable housing will help parks in recruiting and retaining qualified employees and assist in improving employee morale by providing modernized and decent living quarters.
Thank you for consideration of our request. We look forward to continuing to work with you during the consideration of the FY 2023 Interior Appropriations bill.