Group seeks expansion of park land
The proposal pitches $3 million for acreage in Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. » A conservation group is urging Congress to spend nearly $2 billion by 2016 to buy hundreds of thousands of acres of private land within the boundaries of national parks.
The proposal by the National Parks Conservation Association includes about $3 million for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and calls on the federal government to buy 1.8 million acres with funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
In a new report, the group says the nation risks losing the land to developers and recommends the federal government start by buying land in 55 of the National Park Service's 391 units in the coming budget year.
The targets include 125,000 acres that would complete the expansion of Petrified National Forest Park in Arizona.
The National Park Service controls some 84.3 million acres nationwide, but 4.3 million acres of privately owned land sit within park boundaries.
"The American public that love and visit our parks will be surprised to learn that a lot of land within national park boundaries is not protected," Ron Tipton, senior vice president for programs with NPCA, said yesterday.
While public and private partnerships have done a lot to protect sensitive lands near and within national park boundaries, "they cannot and should not replace the Land and Water Conservation Fund as the primary source of federal land acquisition," the report says.
That fund, however, has been only fractionally funded since its 1964 inception.
Funded at an estimated $900 million a year, primarily from revenues on oil and gas leases, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was meant to cover the land-buying needs of the Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service.
But money is regularly diverted toward other federal programs and priorities, the conservation group says.
Funding for the Park Service peaked in fiscal 1999 at $147.9 million and hit a low of $34.3 million in fiscal 2006, a chart in the report shows. For fiscal 2008, some $44.3 million was allocated -- one-third of that peak figure.
In some cases, Congress authorized land purchases then failed to fund them. And while some private land owners are still willing sellers, "even the most public-spirited owners cannot be expected to forgo their own financial needs indefinitely," the report warns.
Acquisition of property is one of the park service's three main missions, according to David Barna, the Park Service's director of public affairs. It competes for resources with maintenance and operations, the latter of which makes up the bulk of the agency's budget.
"We don't get all three of them at once, that's not the way it works right now," he said.