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Is Inadequate Funding the Main Problem Facing the National Park System?

This question fuels the debate regarding how to help the aging national park system improve.

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As the NPS approaches its centennial in 2016, the debate over how to improve the parks is heating up. With an estimated $750 million operating-budget shortfall in 2008, and a maintenance backlog that is much higher, money is tight. The Bush administration’s Centennial Initiative, a 10-year plan launched in 2006 to match private donations with $1 billion in federal funds, has been praised for increasing park budgets. But critics claim that environmental threats–not cash flow–are the primary problems facing the NPS, and that fixing the system also requires legislation that puts conservation first.

YES Without improved funding, the National Park Service will fail in its mission to manage and preserve public lands for current and future generations. Not only does the agency face a maintenance backlog of up to $8 billion, but many parks contain inholdings that could be developed into subdivisions if they remain in private hands. My organization found 55 park units from Harper’s Ferry to Mt. Rainier that lack the resources to buy up these critical lands within their borders. Higher entrance fees and service cutbacks are other side effects of inadequate funding. The potential Centennial Initiative money will help, but it’s just the beginning: The park service needs more dependable and sustainable sources as well.

Ron Tipton

Senior Vice President for Programs

National Parks Conservation Association

NO Protecting our national park’s irreplaceable resources is more important than extra funding to build flush toilets. Without major attractions like wild animals, pristine wilderness, and incredible views, public visitation will drop even further. Inadequate funding for maintenance and land acquisitions is a problem. But while a pothole can be fixed at any time, wildlife and habitat destruction–like the noise and air pollution caused by 540 snowmobiles a day in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons–is irreversible. Protecting park resources takes money, but it also takes forward-looking decisions and legislation. The additional Centennial funding will benefit the parks that receive it, but more money with less conservation is an incomplete victory at best.

Chuck Clusen

Director, National Parks and Alaska Projects

National Resources Defense Council

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