Stimulus Exposes National Parks Priorities

National parks will get $750 million from the economic stimulus package--but how should they spend it?
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National parks will get $750 million from the economic stimulus package--but how should they spend it?

Okay, national parks lovers—first, the good news: National parks will get about $750 million from Obama's recently-passed economic stimulus package. Now for the bad news: No one can agree on whether all that fresh government cash will go to the right projects.

According to the Times, the stimulus bill calls for "$15 million for historic preservation, $146 million for deferred maintenance and 'critical repair and rehabilitation projects,' and $589 million for replacing facilities and equipment and cleaning abandoned mine sites." But nowhere does it mention any money set aside for natural resource management, which would include the protection and restoration of wild habitats, monitoring wildlife populations, and fighting off invasive species.

Many park advocates consider resource management the heart and soul of the parks, and while some parks need infrastructure fixes, they argue that building bridges and bathrooms aren't as important to both park visitors and workers.

"The National Park Service, quite frankly, should be embarrassed," said Eric Lane, director of the conservation services division for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Natural resources are "why people go to national parks -- it's not to go see a washroom painted a new shade of green, it's to see moose walking through the meadow."

But all is not lost: Many natural resource projects could be deemed "shovel-ready," which means they might pull some scratch from maintenance projects if park managers choose to do so. But in the end, it'll be up to Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar to direct the movement of new NPS funds. So far, Salazar has made clear his desire to engage young people in pursuing natural resource careers, so that's encouraging.

With $750 million, the National Park Service will only command about .095 percent of the $787.2 billion dollar package. Come on, Obama—couldn't you spare parks a measly 1 percent?

—Ted Alvarez


Debate over economic stimulus priorities hits Park Service (NY Times)