For the record, I serve as a member of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, so it was with proprietary interest that I read a commentary in the October edition of “National Geographic” by John G. Mitchell titled “Threatened Sanctuaries, The State of U.S. Parks.”
Mitchell notes “this year, in its budget request for Fiscal 2007, the White House proposed cutting the park service’s budget by 5 percent, or a hundred million dollars.”
Doing more with less is one of the telling graphics accompanying the essay, tracing the history of the park service and the system it oversees since 1916. Today, the National Park Service is charged with preserving 390 units covering 84 million acres and welcoming nearly 300 million visits annually.
“Underfunding has become more acute as the number of type of parks have grown. Annual budget shortfalls in recent years have run about half a billion dollars, and the Fiscal 2006 operating budget represented an increase, adjusted for inflation, of only about 1 percent,” according to the magazine.
Yet, Mitchell says, “the present danger goes beyond the usual alarm that the Park Service is strapped for adequate funds to maintain the parks and therefore overwhelmed by visitors who are ‘loving the parks to death.'”
He concludes that America’s national parks may now be facing their most daunting test.
“Budget shortfalls have harried the Park Service and the system for many decades and under many administrations,” writes Mitchell. “Yet the most unsettling danger over the past five years – at least until Dirk Kempthorne replaced Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior last May and Fran Mainella announced her intent to resign as director of the Park Service – has been an atmosphere of veiled hostility created by political appointees at the highest levels of both agencies.”
The stage was set, explains Mitchell, for a clash of values: Was preservation trumping recreation? Should snowmobiles be allowed on all park roads used by motor vehicles in other seasons? Should there be a relaxation of restrictions on personal watercraft at seashores and lakeshores? The fight began in the summer of 2005 over a proposed policy rewrite that opponents charged would have “hijacked” the nation’s parks, converting them into “vastly diminished areas where almost anything goes.” Not to mention that the proposed revisions would have overridden “the legal and regulatory fabric that has effectively held the National Park System together for 90 years.”
To make a long story short, there was a storm of protest, and original policies remained intact; in other words, when there is a conflict between use and conservation, the protection of the resource will be predominant. At least, that is what the deputy director of the National Park Service reportedly told members of the House Resources Committee. So, everyone should breathe a sigh of relief.
Not everyone. The proposed budget reduction of a hundred million dollars for the park service would, according to Mitchell, “come off the top of the service’s construction and major maintenance funds, prompting the ‘New York Times’ to suggest in a lead editorial that such deliberate cuts ‘could create the necessary cover for opening the parks to more commercial activity.'”
Speaking of commercial activity, nothing endangers or threatens our national parks more than development. And, absolutely nothing threatens Acadia National Park more than the potential development of 3,500 acres of privately-owned land on the Schoodic Peninsula.
This property is critical to protecting the values of Acadia National Park, our very own “threatened sanctuary.”