Environment America to Congress: Keep our Parks Open, Protected

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Environment America

Washington, D.C. – On the first day of spring, Environment America’s state affiliates across the country unveiled lists of the top ten reasons area parks deserve protection from pollution and overdevelopment.

As Congress debates the nation’s budget this week in D.C., Environment America is asking Congress to keep our parks open and protected from pollution and overdevelopment by highlighting parks across the country.

“We can’t afford to let polluters and developers transform the places we love forever by allowing drilling, mining, logging, overdevelopment and other threats anywhere near them,” said Mary Rafferty, conservation program coordinator for Environment America. “It’s time for our leaders to defend our nation’s parks and special places.”

Here are a few of the reasons Environment America listed for why Congress should protect our parks:

1) The largest wilderness east of the Mississippi and the largest subtropical wilderness in America, Everglades National Park has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance. The Everglades is one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists. America’s local, state, and national parks are a source of inspiration for all those who experience them.

2) Rock Creek Park right here in the middle of Washington D.C. is one of the primary resting spots for tropical migrating birds making it one of the top bird watching destinations in the region, and an oasis for nearby city dwellers. The City Parks Alliance stresses that natural landscapes are vital to preserving regional ecosystems amid growing cities.
3) Bear Mountain State park, on the Hudson River Valley receives more visitors annually than Yellowstone National Park. Parks are crucial to state and local economies. Across the country, outdoor recreation accounts for $646 billion in outdoor recreation spending each year.

Even though there’s no contesting our parks’ immeasurable ecological and recreational value, polluters and developers show no sign of stopping their advance on our parks, forests and wildlife refuges. Old threats haven’t gone anywhere, and emerging threats are growing.

Overdevelopment has long threatened Michigan’s fragile Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but in 2012, Governor Snyder signed a new bill that rolls back protections for the dunes, allowing for construction of homes and driveways in critical dune areas.
Recently, deposits of shale gas were discovered in the Connecticut River Valley, bringing the threat of gas drilling – and the water pollution that comes with it – to the area surrounding the largest wildlife refuge in New England.

Thankfully, our Senators have the chance to step up and defend our parks by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The LWCF is a federal program that offers a tremendous opportunity for protecting places like the Florida Everglades and Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes. It provides critical protection from increased pollution and overdevelopment by putting a fraction of the royalties from offshore oil drilling toward our Park Service being able to purchase privately-owned land within or surrounding the park. Otherwise, this land becomes vulnerable to pollution and overdevelopment threating the local ecosystem.

Unfortunately, Congress annually raids the LWCF for non-conservation purposes, leaving a legacy of backlogged conservation and recreation needs. And, earlier this week, Senator Barrasso (R-WY) and Senator Boozman (R-AR) each tried to further slash the program.

At the same time, we’ve already seen massive cuts to our Park Service budget, affecting our ability to enjoy our parks due to reduced hours, fewer services, and in some cases even closure.

Congress will vote on funding levels for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as the National Parks budget this week as a part of the FY’14 budget.

“I urge our Senators to stand up for our country’s natural heritage by supporting full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to fight to make sure that our parks can stay open and that their beauty and wildlife can be protected now, and in the future,” said Rafferty.