Bush Pledges Billions for National Parks

By Cat Lazaroff

MONROE, Washington, September 13, 2000 (ENS) - Texas Governor George W. Bush pledged to eliminate the national park system’s $4.9 billion maintenance and resource protection backlog in a private campaign speech today. The announcement was the first major environmental pledge of Bush’s presidential campaign.

Bush

George W. Bush campaigning in Florida earlier this month (Photo courtesy Bush-Cheney 2000)
Over five years, Bush said he would authorize all $4.9 billion to fix leaky buildings, crumbling roads and other problems in the nation’s 83 million acres of national parks. The funds would also support environmental protection and restoration efforts by the National Park Service.

"America's first environmental president, Theodore Roosevelt, talked of the value of 'silent places, unworn by man.' These places inspired him - and he inspired our government to protect them," said Bush in a press release regarding the initiative. "I view protecting America's 'silent places' as an ongoing responsibility, a shared commitment of the American people and our government."

Bush’s speech announcing the plan, made at a fundraising event in Monroe, was not released to the public or the press.

Bush said he would also provide $100 million over five years to improve natural science management at natural parks by hiring more scientists at the National Park Service (NPS). In 1993, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt removed scientists from several of Interior's agencies, including all 100 scientists from the NPS, an action that cut national park managers off from direct access to researchers, the Bush campaign charged.

Chaco

At Chaco Cultural National Historical Park in New Mexico, nine ancient Anasazi stone structures are collapsing (Photo courtesy NPS)
Another $20 million pledge would support scientific research, including inventories of plant and animal species native to parks.

Bush said the Clinton administration has spent too much money acquiring land for protection, and not enough maintaining property it already owns. He charged the Clinton administration with cutting funding for the National Park Service's major maintenance budget by 22 percent in the latest budget.

The campaign office of Vice President Al Gore, Bush’s closest opponent in the presidential race, countered by releasing statistics indicating that entry fee reforms enacted by the Clinton administration now send 80 percent of park entry fees to the parks where they were collected, to help pay for operations and repairs.

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS CRITICIZE BUSH PLAN

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting the national park system, praised Bush’s short term goals, but said his plan was weak on long term solutions for national parks problems.

Glacier

Underfunded: Montana's Glacier National Park lacks the means to determine why gray wolves there have declined 75 percent since 1997 (Photo courtesy NPS)
"George W. Bush's promise to eliminate the national parks maintenance and resource protection projects backlog with increased funding is a bright spot in a presidential campaign too often silent on environmental issues," said NPCA president Thomas Kiernan. "We have been neglecting the national parks at the expense of future generations. Bush's promise of more funding is a substantial start toward ending that neglect. His emphasis on improving science in the parks also is a good first step toward a desperately needed expansion of the Park Service's scientific and resource protection capability."

Kiernan said Bush’s pledge is a "strong challenge to the Gore campaign to step up to the plate and show the American people what a Gore administration would do for the natural and cultural resource protection of our National Parks."

But Bush’s promises address "only half the story" of the national park system’s problems, he said.

"The backlog is the result of a $500 million to $1 billion shortfall in the National Park Service's annual operating budget, according to preliminary figures from the NPCA/National Park Service Business Plan Initiative, which has analyzed the on-going financial needs of 26 national parks," said Kiernan. "Governor Bush's proposal fixes the backlog problem, but does not solve the underlying problem of an inadequate annual budget for the Park Service to protect the plants, animals, and historic artifacts in its care."

For example, Mount Rainier National Park, within sight of Bush’s campaign stop in Monroe, has budget shortfalls that keep the park from adequately monitoring its 10 federally listed threatened and endangered species, such as the Pacific salmon.

The national conservation group Sierra Club had even harsher criticism for Bush’s initiative.

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier National Park, visible from Monroe, Washington (Photo courtesy NPS)

"George Bush may make a few environmentally friendly proposals, but his record in Texas rats him out," said Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star (Texas) Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Bush's willingness to let industries and special interests control beautiful places and police their own behavior poses a real threat to America's clean air, clean water, and unique wild places."

"In Washington state, Bush talks about fixing national parks while ignoring them in Texas," added Kramer.

In a fact sheet accompanying Bush’s new initiative, Bush claims that during his tenure as Texas governor, he has eliminated most of the $75 million maintenance backlog that faced Texas state parks when he took office in 1995.

But recent reports find a $186 million backlog of state park maintenance needs in Texas parks, and indicate that the state is 49th in per capita spending on state parks.

The Sierra Club also condemned the Bush campaign for opposing efforts to protect the natural resources in and around the parks through land acquisition, national monument creation and wild forest protection.

Attwaters

Bush says his Landowner Incentive Program has helped protect habitat for the endangered Attwater's prairie chicken in Texas (Photo by Gary P. Montoya, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
"Unfortunately, George Bush's public land agenda would pave over more than National Park parking lots - it would also pave much of our wild land across the country," said Melanie Griffin, director of land protection programs for Sierra Club.

The group cited a "Washington Post" article that reports that Terry Anderson, one of Bush's top advisors, has advocated selling all public lands, "saying that would improve ‘environmental quality and economic efficiency.'"

BUSH PLEDGES FUNDS FOR SALMON

Addressing an issue closer to Washington state voters, Bush said he would support "cooperative and regional efforts to restore salmon runs" in the Pacific Northwest. His administration would work to approve the Salmon Recovery Board's request for $20 million in funding from the federal government for local salmon recovery projects, Bush said.

steelhead

A steelhead salmon caught in the Snake River (Photo courtesy Idaho Rivers United)
Bush has said he would oppose breaching four dams on the lower Snake River, a move that many scientists and environmentalists regard as crucial to the survival of Snake River salmon runs.

"Bush has proposed a rat sized solution when we have an elephant-sized problem with the dwindling salmon population," said Jim Young, Northwest representative of the Sierra Club. "It will take much more than $20 million spent by the Advisory Board to protect northwest salmon from extinction."

"Bush's landowner incentive program proposal is no substitute for permanent protection of our threatened wild places. We cannot rely solely on land owners' good intentions to protect our children's natural heritage," added Young.