Testimony About Risks to Pennsylvania’s State Parks

David Masur Testifies in Front of the House Democratic Policy Committee


David Masur, PennEnvironment

October 24, 2012

Good morning. My name is David Masur, and I am the Director for PennEnvironment. PennEnvironment is a non-profit, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. I’d like to start out by thanking Chairman Sturla and the members of the House Democratic Policy Committee for inviting me to testify on the litany of environmental threats facing Pennsylvania’s incredible state park system.

Pennsylvania’s 120 state parks under threat
Our state parks and forests are some of the most extensive in the country, a symbol of our commitment to preserve Pennsylvania’s natural heritage for generations to come.

Each year, our state parks give millions of visitors the opportunity to hike, camp, fish, boat or just relax. From Erie’s Presque Isle to Ridley Creek State Park outside of Philadelphia, and everywhere in between, Pennsylvania’s 120 state parks are some of the crown jewels of our natural heritage.

Pennsylvania’s state park system was created with the vision of having a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian. And while Pennsylvania is the 33rd largest state, only Alaska and California have more state parks. All told, state parks are found in 61 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

Sadly, our state parks face major threats from all sides: threats of privatization, severe funding cuts and budget shortfalls, a backlog of maintenance and repair projects, and the threat of Marcellus Shale gas drilling, mining and logging—and the pollution that will accompany it.

Political Threats–Privatization and funding cuts
In the past two years, we’ve unfortunately seen that Gov. Corbett is willing to propose far-reaching steps that would dismantle Pennsylvania’s state park system.

Last fall, Gov. Corbett told reporters that our stunning state park system was near the top of his short list of state assets to privatize (along with liquor stores and prisons). 
Pennsylvania’s state parks are one of the Commonwealth’s greatest resources, and we should value them as such. We should be working to repair, restore, expand and improve these places that make Pennsylvania great—not trying to sell them off to the highest bidder.

Luckily, Gov. Corbett backtracked from his initial statement after heated media scrutiny and a vocal public backlash.

But the Governor quickly forgot that every-day Pennsylvanians don’t appreciate it when someone messes with our state parks.

Just months later as part of his budget proposal, Governor Corbett proposed eliminating the Keystone Fund, which funds Pennsylvania’s state park system. Again, this was met with vocal and bipartisan opposition. Even members of his own party opposed this—ensuring that the final budget fully funded the Keystone Fund.

Ecological Threats—mining, gas drilling and logging
You would hope that elected officials like the Governor would stand up for our state parks and public lands because it’s the right thing to do. But at the very least you’d think he’d have the political wherewithal to stop trying to attack our state parks—it’s a born loser in the eyes of the public, voters and opinion leaders from all ends of the political spectrum.

Incredibly, it appears that the Governor’s office has been tone deaf when it comes to Pennsylvanians’ love for our state parks.

Back on October 9, when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the firing of John Norbeck from DCNR, it reported that Mr. Norbeck’s termination was likely based upon his ideological—and even political—criticism of gas drilling, mining and Marcellus Shale gas drilling in state parks.

While the Governor’s office says that these types of projects aren’t on the table, Mr. Norbeck reported that the limestone mining company Amerikohl Mining Inc had a meeting schedule with DCNR to discuss its limestone mining under Laurel Ridge State Park in Somerset County. A spokesperson for the company told a story counter to that of DCNR, acknowledging that they’ve been attempting to meet and discuss this issue with DCNR.

Pathway Forward—protecting state parks for now and future generations
PennEnvironment believes we must enforce a set of commonsense principles when it comes to preserving our state parks and public lands:
1. We must make sure that our parks are properly funded to do proper maintenance and be able to upgrade and improve our state parks. This includes fully funding DCNR to properly run the agency and have a full complement of staff to oversee this important asset of the Commonwealth.
2. These are public lands that are put into the public trust—as the taxpayers and residents of Pennsylvania, we are all stewards of these lands. They must remain in the public trust and not privatized or sold to the highest bidder.
3. Pennsylvania’s state parks must be fully protected from logging, mining and gas drilling. Some places are so important that we must protect them as wild and for the public’s enjoyment. The gas drilling industry, mining companies and loggers have access to the vast majority of land in the Commonwealth—some places must remain off limits and protected from these intensive extractive practices—now and for future generations.

In closing, I again want to thank Chairman Sturla for inviting me to today’s policy committee hearing. I look forward to working with you all on this important issue.