November 28, 2005

Congress Visits CA to Examine Funding for National Parks


Contact: Casey McDonald, NPCA, Washington, DC, 202-454-3371 x113

San Francisco, CA - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) testified today about the critical funding needs of California’s 23 national parks, putting special focus on the funds needed to combat illegal marijuana cultivation in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

“California’s national parks sustain our long-standing, unbroken connection to the land and our history and provide a rich legacy that we are obligated to leave unimpaired for future generations,” testified NPCA Board of Trustees Chair Gene Sykes. “How sad it would be to squander our American birthright by failing to address the budgetary woes that threaten national parks in California and across the nation.”

In 2004, more than 44,000 marijuana plants were eradicated within Sequoia National Park. The clean up that followed cost the National Park Service approximately $50,000. These funds might have been otherwise spent on visitor education and maintaining and preserving the park’s many trails and historical sites. In addition, the hard-to-find crops are protected by armed guards and pose a threat to ranger and visitor safety.

Staffing shortages in California’s desert parks, Mojave, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley, have opened the door to vandals, illegal dumping of hazardous materials, and artifact and animal poaching. Death Valley has only 15 protection rangers, down from 23 a few years ago, to patrol 3.4 million acres, an area roughly the size of Connecticut. Ideally, Joshua Tree staffs 20 protection rangers to monitor its 794,000 acres – they currently have ten. Mojave National Preserve currently has a staff of six rangers to patrol 1.6 million acres.

According to NPCA’s 2005 report, Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America’s National Park Heritage America’s national parks are short $600 million annually which has resulted in severe staff shortages, decreased visitor services, and a lack of funds available to perform necessary maintenance and preservation of park trails, structures, and historical sites. New legislation in Congress can help to address the parks’ funding shortfall.

The bipartisan National Park Centennial Act, which has support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), several members of California’s House delegation and other park champions like Senator John McCain (R-AZ), seeks to increase funding for the maintenance and natural and cultural preservation needs of the parks through 2016—the 100th anniversary of the park system’s creation. The legislation provides new funding for the parks in part from a voluntary check-off on federal income tax returns; Congress agrees to make up any difference needed to ensure that the job gets done. In a nationwide poll, three in five likely voters said they would donate to the parks via a voluntary check-off.

Today’s hearing, held in San Francisco by Government Reform, Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder (R-IN), is the sixth in a series of congressional field hearings held over two years to examine the funding needs of America’s national parks. The hearings are the first focused effort by Congress in decades to examine park-funding issues in-depth, and to identify solutions to meet the challenges.