Three Congressmen accused of blocking efforts to reform park concessions
group, the National Parks and Conservation Association, has issued a fact sheet denouncing the "war on the national parks" by members of Congress.
Citing ten specific bills and several efforts to cut or redirect funding, the group charges that Congressmen with "an anti-park agenda" are attacking the National Park
System and seeking to undermine individual parks.
A spokeswoman for the Association said that the crisis will come to a head this fall, as the 1996 Interior Department budget is finalized and the full House and Senate debate the various bills.
Immediate actions are directed at upcoming Senate hearings on a bill by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska). The groups says Murkowski, along with Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), and Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah), have blocked efforts to reform park concessions and are working with the concessions industry to "preserve and expand the sweetheart deals and taxpayer subsidies concessioners now enjoy. In 1993, concessioners paid only 2.7 percent of gross sales to the taxpayers for the privilege of operating lucrative monopolies in the parks." Hearings for S. 1144 are scheduled to begin September 14th.
Also planned are September 25th hearings on H.R. 1342, which would transfer 29,900 acres of Lake Clark National Park in Alaska to Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI), a private corporation. According to the citizen's group, this represents 90 percent of the park's coastline, and would open the transferred area to potential oil, gas and mineral development. "Although CIRI asserts legal claims to the acreage, its claims have been reviewed and rejected several times by the Department of the Interior," states the fact sheet. "The bill is nothing more than an attempt to evade previous Interior Department rulings and give away part of the park."
States and counties would have carte blanche to bulldoze highways through national parks
described by the Association include:
Park closure commission H.R. 260 sponsored by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) would create a park closure commission. Although the bill exempts the 54 "national parks" from threat of closure, 315 national monuments and memorials, historic sites, Civil War battlefields, recreation areas and urban parks could be considered.
Attempts to cripple acquisitions While each year up to $900 million is collected from offshore oil and gas leases expressly for the purpose of buying important forest, refuge, and parklands, both the House and the Senate budget resolutions have called for a five-year moratorium on the federal purchase of conservation lands.
Highways through Alaska and Utah parks Just before Senate passage of the National Highway Designation Act, a bill defining eligibility and funding criteria for federal highways, Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Murkowski, and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) proposed an amendment to give states and counties carte blanche to bulldoze highways through national parks and other federally protected lands.
Snowmobiles instead of wilderness In 1972, Congress set aside 218,000 acres of bogs, marshes, lakes and forests as Voyageurs National Park, and the National Park Service has recommended roughly half be designated as wilderness. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) has introduced a bill (H.R.1310) that would ban any wilderness designation and increase snowmobile and vehicle access to almost all of the park. Oberstar also wants to expand aircraft and motorboat use, and mandate no fewer than 200 motorized houseboats on the lakes. Oberstar calls his bill a "revitalization act."
Threats to Yellowstone buffalo and endangered wolf Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) introduced legislation (S.745) to require the Park Service to corral Yellowstone's buffalo herd, test it for brucellosis, and slaughter all animals that test positive. Burns' legislation comes at the request of local cattlemen who worry that the disease, which causes spontaneous abortion, may infect beef cattle. Although such interspecies transmission has never been demonstrated in the wild, and bison are close to livestock in very small numbers for only a limited time of the year, the legislation would put the entire Yellowstone herd at risk of slaughter. In addition, Burns has vowed to block funding for restoring the endangered gray wolf to the park, a program that has been under way for many years. On July 28, Burns inserted language into the Senate version of the FY 1996 Interior appropriations bill to cut about half of the funds requested for the wolf restoration program.