Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., expressed concern during a Senate hearing this week over the drop in funding for the National Park Service (NPS) in President Bush’s proposed 2007 budget and its potential effect on park maintenance and visitor experiences.
The Billings (Mont.) Gazette reported that in a brief hearing before the Senate National Parks Subcommittee, which he chairs, Thomas noted that the proposed Park Service budget of $2.16 billion would be a drop of $100.5 million, or 5%, from 2006.
While acknowledging the need for restraining spending because of the budget deficit, Thomas said, “We need to make sure that any cuts are carefully reviewed to avoid impacting the visitor experience or damaging resources through neglect.”
Park Service Director Fran Mainella said increases for certain programs would strengthen the parks in some key areas. She said the cuts will come in the form of a $93 million line-item reduction in construction and the rest from Land and Water Conservation Fund state grants and federal land acquisition.
She testified that a total $933 million would go toward reducing the parks’ maintenance backlog in 2007, including a $10 million increase for cyclic maintenance, $210 million for park roads from the Transportation Department and $100 million from visitor fees.
She said the Park Service is “moving very positively” on the backlog. But she added, “It will make some movement forward. It’s still going to be a process. … Really there’s never an end to the maintenance backlog. There always will be a backlog.”
Thomas also asked what the impact the tight budget would have on park expansion in the future.
“We’ll be very hesitant to ever add on new units in the national parks,” Mainella said. “We will do it, when appropriate.”