Report Outlines Staffing Shortages In Parks
The nonpartisan park watchdog, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has issued a report on the critical shortage of staff in America’s national parks, a shortage that directly affects the experiences of millions of visitors this summer and cripples the ability of the National Park Service to protect the nation’s heritage.
“America’s national park rangers have become an endangered species,” said NPCA President Thomas Kiernan. “President Bush-and some of his predecessors-made strong commitments to the American people about protecting our national parks. But when push comes to shove, the parks are under funded year after year by Washington.”
Research shows that across the system, national parks operate on average with only two-thirds of the needed funding–a system–wide shortfall that exceeds $600 million annually. The shortfall in operating budgets directly affects park staffing, which in turn, compromises the experiences of millions of visitors and the preservation of the nation’s natural, cultural, and historic heritage, and leads to a growing backlog of park maintenance projects.
In parks nationwide, visitor centers have reduced operating hours or have been closed altogether for months at a time. Public education programs have been reduced or eliminated. Scientific monitoring of endangered species has lapsed. Historic buildings are allowed to deteriorate, sometimes until ceiling collapse. Priceless museum collections are piled up in corners or boxed up and stored in damp basements. Wildlife and artifacts are poached.
Among the leading causes of the staffing shortage in the national parks, as cited in NPCA’s 36-page assessment, “Endangered Rangers,” is chronic underfunding of the Park Service and increasing responsibilities, such as protecting our national icons from terrorist attack, that do not come with sufficient funding. The NPCA report outlines actions that the administration, Congress, and the Park Service can take to help improve staffing levels in the national parks, such as meeting the parks’ annual funding needs and improving park management.
One of the few environmental commitments President Bush made as a candidate was to eliminate the backlog of park maintenance projects and “restore and renew” America’s national parks. Regrettably, the administration has made little progress toward meeting this pledge. It has not significantly increased annual investment in the programs that comprise the backlog or met the parks’ $600 million annual operating shortfall.
“By neglecting their duty to adequately fund our national parks, Congress and the administration are squandering the nation’s legacy,” Kiernan added.