Washington, DC - Visitorship to national parks is on the rise but parks are threatened by underfunding according to a new report, The Best of America Under Threat from Underfunding released today by Environment America. The group warns that as our parks draw more and more visitors, they could face budget cuts in the coming year- leaving park managers with fewer resources for maintenance, upkeep and stewardship.
“Last year, visitors poured into national parks to experience America’s great outdoors, wildlife, history and culture,” said Nancy Pyne of Environment America. “Yet just as their popularity grows, national parks are under threat from underfunding.”
National parks rely on operating budgets to hire park rangers, for educational programs and to maintain general facilities and trails. If enacted, the proposed National Park Service budget for the coming fiscal year would provide $22 million less than national parks received last year. With nearly 11 million more people visiting national parks in 2009, budget cuts will make it harder for park stewards to keep up with increased usage.
Advocates pointed out that our parks are already feeling the effects of an over-strapped park system. Proposed budget cuts would only add to the National Parks Service budget shortfalls, created by years of underfunding.
“Now is the time parks should be best protected,” said Pyne. “Instead, they could be facing painful cuts, which could force parks keepers to delay maintenance, hire fewer rangers or cut back on programs.”
Environment America’s report reveals that nationwide two-thirds of national parks, including parks in nearly every state, saw visitorship climb. However, almost three-quarters of parks that had an increase in visitors last year could face a budget cut in the coming year. Treasured national parks like Yellowstone, Acadia, and Glacier all saw the number of visitors increase in 2009, but could be slated for cuts in the coming year.
In addition to operations and maintenance funding, national parks are threatened by overdevelopment and pollution on lands adjacent to or within its boundaries. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established to give parks grants for land acquisition as privately-held parcels of land near the park come up for sale. Unfortunately, many parks never receive these funds.
“Parks throughout America are becoming more popular destinations. Parks still offer affordable family vacations and are ideal places for people of all ages to explore the great outdoors,” said Pyne. “We need to provide our parks with the resources to ensure they are just as majestic in 2999 as they were in 2009.”
Environment America urged the Obama administration to prioritize national park preservation in their America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. Advocates also called on Congress to fulfill the promise of our national parks and secure full funding for the National Parks Service.
“The Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative aims to protect America’s greatest places and reconnect Americans with the outdoors,” said Pyne. “We urge our leaders to fully fund the National Park Service and permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund so we can all enjoy what is truly the best of America for generations to come.”