February 6, 2007

Desert parks could benefit from budget

Andrew Silva, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

California's desert national parks could be big winners under President Bush's proposal for the largest budget increase in the history of the National Park Service.

The proposed $2.4 billion budget for national parks includes a $258 million increase for operations, which would go toward hiring 3,000 new employees including rangers and maintenance workers.

"The numbers look great. We haven't seen this type of increase in years," said Joe Zarki, spokesman for Joshua Tree National Park.

The three desert parks that touch San Bernardino County - Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve - are in line for some of the biggest percentage increases.

"This budget proposal is a victory for all Americans who love national parks," said Thomas C. Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit group that has been calling for increased park funding for years.

In October, more than 100 members of Congress asked the president to increase park funding after years of stagnant or declining budgets.

The money means more programs with rangers, improved facilities, and better protection for important sites and attractions at the parks.

Zarki said Joshua Tree has seen about a 35 percent drop in the number of employees who provide interpretive programs to the public between 2001 and 2005. In 2001 there was the equivalent of 14.4 full-time employees, which dropped to 9.25 in 2005.

That translated to a 50 percent drop in the number of programs for park visitors.

"If people feel they come into the park and are not seeing any staff, there's something to that," he said.

One of the biggest percentage increases could be in Mojave National Preserve, the park that stretches across 1.6 million acres east of Barstow between interstates 15 and 40.

Its 2006 budget was $4.1 million and the president's 2008 request is $5.2 million, a 27 percent increase.

Created in 1994, it has never reached its full staffing level, preserve Superintendent Dennis Schramm said.

"This'll really help us get back in the community and doing things people like to do - ranger walks, campfire programs and talks," he said.

The park service budget also calls for the creation of a $100 million fund to match donations by corporations or philanthropists to help the service get ready for its 100th anniversary in 2016.

Proposed for parks

California's desert national parks could see a budget boost if the president's proposal is approved. It would be the biggest budget hike in National Park Service history.

  • Death Valley National Park: 2006 budget $7.1 million; 2008 proposed increase $1.75 million, or 25 percent.
  • Joshua Tree National Park: 2006 budget $4.3 million; 2008 proposed increase $882,000, or 20 percent.
  • Mojave National Preserve: 2006 budget $4.1 million; 2008 proposed increase $1.1 million, or 27 percent.