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We need fully funded National Parks

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is an iconic rock formation that draws hundreds of thousands of hikers each year.
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is an iconic rock formation that draws hundreds of thousands of hikers each year.
© 2014 by John R Howard

We must save our National Parks! Anyone who has visited a National Park or National Monument in recent years has seen ample evidence of under-funding: entrance stations left unattended, shuttered ranger stations and closed campground loops, neglected maintenance, very few rangers out and about in the park where they are needed. If not for volunteers, many parks simply would not have the manpower to responsibly operate, protect, or interpret the gems of history and natural beauty the Park Service was created to manage.

The National Park Service protects against vandalism like this graffiti just outside Joshua Tree National Park.
© 2014 by John R Howard

While the inventory of parks across the country has grown to over 400 and the number of visitors has swelled to about 300 million per year, the budget for the NPS has hardly kept pace. The money allocated by Congress for permanent and seasonal ranger positions has been shrinking over the last 20 years, resulting in fewer employees for a growing workload. The number of roads, bridges and buildings in need of repair or replacement is mounting. Funds for upkeep and new facilities are exceedingly tight.

Furthermore, undermanned parks are vulnerable to crime and abuse. Poaching, vandalism and crimes against visitors are on the rise. Rules for preservation are being ignored. Trees are being cut illegally. Cacti are being harvested from the desert parks. Motorized vehicles are being driven where thy ey are prohibited. Cultural artifacts are being looted. Graffiti has begun appearing in places of irreplaceable natural or historic value.

Speak with members of the professional Park Service staff – those dedicated folks in Smokey the Bear hats – and many lament the chronic under-funding. The parks are simply not being managed or protected as necessary.

Our National Parks are a national treasure, not to be squandered or neglected. Visitors from all over the world come to see Yosemite, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Grand Canyon and all the rest.

As the Park Service approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the Obama Administration are requesting a substantial increase in the agency’s budget to resume full hiring and address the estimated $11 billion backlog in park maintenance projects.

If you share a concern that the National Parks must be fully funded and protected, urge your representatives in Congress to support the proposed budget increase. It is the right thing to do.