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President’s FY25 Budget Request For National Park Service “Disappointing”

By Kurt Repanshek – March 12th, 2024

Cuts in visitor interpretation and education, not enough money for employee pay raises or to replace jobs lost by past years’ cuts, and less money for replacing worn out equipment are among the troubling areas of President Biden’s FY25 budget request for the National Park Service, which continues to see visitation rise and additional units for the agency to manage.

Overall, the $3.576 billion request reflects a $101 million increase from FY24 funding levels, a level the administration says “prioritizes advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, building resiliency to tackle the climate crisis in the National Park System, conserving our natural resources, and using science to inform decisions. The request balances investments in key priorities with necessary funding for day-to-day operation of the National Park System, ensuring the American public continues to have enriching experiences on park lands.”

However, notes Phil Francis, a long-time Park Service superintendent who now chairs the executive council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, the budget contains “some things that are being reduced and/or eliminated from the budget to pay for the new things.” Overall, he said Tuesday he was “disappointed in the president’s budget.”

And while the Interior Department in a release Monday praised funding requests for wildland firefighting and climate change initiatives, to strengthen tribal nations and meet treaty obligations, and to fund clean energy initiatives, Francis pointed out areas of the National Park Service that were not suitably addressed by the budget request.

“The National Park Service is not mentioned in that at all,” he said of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s release. “I was disappointed, certainly in that. Interior’s largest agency is the National Park Service, with over 300 million visitors and the economic benefit of $50 billion, and it’s not mentioned in the secretary’s press release. I was very surprised by that.”

“I don’t know what’s going on. But I’m certainly disappointed,” Francis continued. “You know, we’ve lost thousands of positions over the years and there’s no money that I could find in my reading of the budget to restore those positions. Or if any are restored, part of [the funding] is being taken from other accounts. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The budget, which almost certainly will get short shrift from appropriators in the House of Representatives where funding for the current fiscal year carries a $150 million cut for the Park Service, shifts money around in part to cover start-up “costs for parks recently added to the National Park System, like Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Historic Site, Blackwell School National Historic Site, New Philadelphia National Historic Site, the Summerton Site expansion at Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park, and Amache National Historic Site,” the Park Service noted in its own release on the president’s budget.

“This request speaks to the heart of what the National Park Service does every day, ensuring Americans and visitors from around the world are able to benefit from the resources we protect while working within the budget constraints we face today,” Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in that release. “The budget addresses critical challenges like supporting a strong workforce; strengthening climate resilience in parks and communities; sharing the complete story of America; and ensuring access to parks for generations to come.”

That said, among the spending reductions called for in the request are:

  • $29 million in Historic Preservation Fund projects.
  • $25 million in repair and rehabilitation funding [addresses recapitalization, alteration, replacement, and divestiture activities needed to improve the condition of NPS assets. Repair and rehabilitation projects address complex repair needs that arise on an infrequent or non-recurring basis, halting or correcting deterioration where preventive maintenance is no longer sufficient to maintain the condition of the facility or infrastructure.]
  • $16.5 million in Save America’s Treasures projects, which “help preserve nationally significant historic properties and collections that convey our Nation’s rich heritage to future generations.”
  • $14.1 million from a program that “allows the National Park Service to establish a revolving fund to provide the NPS with tools to improve commercial visitor facilities and services throughout the System.”
  • $13 million in the fund used to replace worn out equipment.
  • $11.1 million in the agency’s Heritage Partnership Program, which supports the “conservation and stewardship of diverse natural and cultural resources and the provision of educational and recreational benefits for the American people through partnership programs.”
  • $8.9 million in the Park Service’s visitor services budget.
  • $2 million for the Park Service’s Centennial Challenge fund, which provides dedicated Federal funding to match non-Federal donations for park projects.

Looking across the National Park System with its multitude of needs, Francis said the Park Service’s budget should including adequate funds for staff, for maintenance of park facilities, for staff training, and to cover supplies and materials.

At the National Parks Conservation Association, John Garder, senior director for budget and appropriations, said the president missed a great opportunity to tell Congress the Park Service needs much more funding.

“This budget sends an important message that National Park funding needs to be increased. There are important proposals [in the budget] to meet fixed costs for housing, tribal support, climate change, wildlife and more,” said Garder. “But that said, it’s not a visionary budget, and nowhere near the increase that parks and Park Service programs need. Chiefly, parks have lost thousands of staff over the years. And while this budget commendably would undo last year’s cuts and add over 100 more personnel, it falls short of the level of recovery that’s needed to bring park staffing levels back to where they were and certainly where they need to be.

“There are also some missed opportunities, as well as some concerning reductions,” he went on. “Park infrastructure is in disrepair, and while the Great American Outdoors Act is chipping away at the backlog, the Park Service needs additional resources for smaller repair projects and day-to-day cyclic maintenance. This budget misses that opportunity to tell Congress that they need to do better at annually addressing park repair needs.

The president’s request does ask for $49.4 million to cover “one-quarter (October-December 2024) of the 5.2 percent pay raise for 2024 and three quarters (January-September 2025) of the estimated 2.0 percent pay raise for 2025.”

It also seeks funding to address “obsolete and deteriorated housing or adding housing capacity at multiple parks, including Mammoth Cave National Park, Acadia National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Western Arctic National Parklands, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Yosemite National Park.”

Furthermore, it calls for $9 million to pay for new construction or rehabilitation of existing facilities to provide employee housing “where local market data shows that rentals are either unavailable or unaffordable.” Parks cited in this category were Rocky Mountain, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Mammoth Cave. “Projects would support approximately 100 rehabilitated or new bedrooms for both seasonal and permanent NPS employees,” the budget document said.

Of course, with this year being an election year, Congress’s approach to funding the Park Service could change considerably before the FY25 budget is adopted.