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Of Pigs and Parks


    The financial plight of the national park system gained more mileage this weekend as the Knight Ridder News Service trotted out a story that's been well-covered here and elsewhere: the National Park Service's budget just isn't adequate for properly running, managing, and taking care of the national park system.
    What I did find interesting, though, were the different views some park managers expressed in commenting on the plight. While Tony Schetzsle, who oversees Canyonlands and Arches national parks, said that cost-cutting measures now being instituted throughout the park system are "necessary for a better idea of what we can do and what we can sustain...", Glacier's deputy superintendent, Stephanie Dubois, lamented that, "It's a very difficult decision every time you take a step backward from what you've been doing."   

    It's difficult to watch the parks' cost-cutting, and deterioration, when it really isn't necessary. There is absolutely no reason for Congress to go along with President Bush's proposed $100 million cut in the Park Service's FY2007 budget. Not when you realize the ridiculous amounts of federal tax dollars being wasted on Congress's pet projects.
    According to Citizens Against Government Waste, in 2005 Congress spent more than $27 billion on projects that either were not approved through established budgetary procedures, were not competitively bid, not requested by the president, not specifically authorized, were requested by only one chamber of Congress, were not subject to congressional hearings, or served only a local or specific interest.
    Of course, what's wasteful spending to one is not to another. That's understood. But why, at a time when there are so many legitimate needs across the federal landscape, are taxpayers underwriting the Tiger Woods Foundation to the tune of $100,000? Why are we spending $1.7 billion for "berry research" in the state of Alaska? Do we really need to spend $1 million to study waterless urinals?
    Some other questionable expenditures cited in this year's "Pig Book":
    * $2.3 million for "animal waste management"
    * $250,000 for "asparagus technology and production"
    * $6,285,000 for "wood utilization research"
    * $469,000 for the National Wild Turkey Foundation
    * $335,000 for "cranberry/blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey" (Since 1985, according to CAGW, $4.3 million has been spent on this research)
    * $20 million for the Bonneau Ferry in South Carolina
    * $2 million to buy back the presidential yacht that President Carter sold in 1977 in the name of frugality
    * $1 million to study Brown Tree Snakes in Guam
    The list goes on and on and really makes for some light, humorous reading...until you realize how many agencies could benefit from much of this frivolous spending. Again, as I said above, what's pork to one is prudent to another. The Pig Book also cited a few Interior Department appropriations that it considered wasteful. For instance, it objects to the expenditure of:
    * $739,000 to build a research center to protect the museum collection of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
    * $4.27 million for the New River Gorge National River
    * $3.4 million for Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
    * $600,000 for the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch in Capitol Reef National Park
    * $1.7 million for Mount Rainier National Park
    * $3.5 million for a visitor center at Blue Ridge Parkway
    * $1 million for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
    * $832,000 to build floating docks at the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
    * $200,000 for a preservation building at the Waco Texas Mammoth Paleontology Site
    You get the idea. There are good projects, and ridiculous projects, throughout the federal budget. What we need is for our congressional representatives, such as Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the roughly three dozen members of Congress's National Parks Caucus, and all the others who complain about poor funding for the NPS or the wrongs associated with trying to rewrite the agency's Management Policies, to step up for the Park Service.
    Instead of spending $1 million on waterless urinals, how about spending $1 million on interpretive programs that will help lure visitors to the parks? Instead of wasting $250,000 on asparagus production and technology, how about spending $250,000 on additional rangers in Yellowstone National Park? Instead of spending $6.28 million to discover new ways to use wood, how about spending $6.28 million to properly equip rangers throughout the park system?
    It's not hard to identify needy programs throughout the Park Service. What apparently is tough, though, is for NPS Director Fran Mainella to agree with the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies that the president's FY2007 budget proposal for her agency is inadequate or for park superintendents like Tony Schetzsle to speak out against inadequate funding rather than agree to find ways to cut into his parks' muscle and bone.


So goes the tale of conservation in the United States today; one step forward for every two backward. What's going on with the NPS is the same affliction that's harming the Fish and Wildlife Service: An administration that's adept at starving an agency's mission through budget cuts (largely out of sight of taxpayers). Once the budget for doing things like enforcing the Endangered Species Act or running refuges and parks has been cut to the bone marrow, the administration very publicly announces the agency's problems are proof once again that gubberment can't do the job. Therefore, "we'd better turn it over to private industry [read outsourcing]." Until Americans pause from driving their SUVs for a moment and wake up to the harsh reality of what the administration is up, it's only bound to continue. Late breaking news: PEER annnounced today a secret gubberment plan to cut NPS funding by 30 percent over 5 years.

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