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park closure (Was: AT Conference in Harrisonburg)

Dave Starzell (Exec Dir of ATC) writes:

There are two current "threats" to the national park system: The first is
 the second stems from recent authorizing legislation. From the standpoint of
budget, the recently adopted House fiscal year 1996 Interior appropriations
calls for a 10-percent reduction in the national park operating budget.  If
that reduction 
is sustained by the Senate, the national park service will have two choices: 
(1) reduce the operating budget for each of the national park units by 10
which, in many areas, would result in substandard conditions (there already
an estimated $6 billion backlog in health and safety and other improvements 
needed in the various park units);  or, (2) close down some parks. In order 
to achieve the $108 million reduction, the national park service could close 
the eight largest national parks, or it could close more than 200 of the
or least visited units of the national park system (there are 368 units in
national park system).

A longer-term threat is presented in the form of H.R. 260, the "National Park

System Reform Act of 1995." This bill, also known as the "Park Closure 
Commission Act," has now cleared the full committee in the House of
and will move forward for full floor consideration sometime in August or
Essentially, the bill has two major thrusts:  First, it requires the
Secretary of the 
Interior to develop criteria for evaluating areas under consideration as
additions to 
the national park system to ensure that such areas are nationally significant
represent aspects of the nation's heritage that are not already adequately
 in the system, and to prepare a financial-management plan and evaluate
methods for protecting and managing such areas. The National Park Service 
supports this portion of the bill.

The second major provision requires the Secretary to develop criteria to 
evaluate existing units of the national park system to "determine whether
 there are more appropriate alternatives for managing all or a portion of
(such units)."
 Within 18 months, the Secretary must prepare and submit to Congress a plan
identifies units or portions of units within the system where National Park
management should be terminated in favor of management by "other entities." 
The bill also calls for the establishment of a National Park System Review
The commission would review the recommendations of the National Park Service
either endorse or modify them. The commission must submit a report to the
within two years.
The National Park Service opposes this portion of the bill, especially the
creation of the 
"review commission." A number of conservation organizations are encouraging
 members to write members of the House of Representatives and urge them to
 adoption of the bill when it reaches the floor.

What does this mean for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail? Basically, 
it is too early to tell. If H.R. 260 is adopted in the House, and a similar
bill is 
adopted by the Senate, then the required review of the national park system
will begin. 
However, given the timetable prescribed in the legislation, the process could
more than three years. In addition, H.R. 260 does require public
participation, both 
during the park service study phase (particularly with respect to the
adoption of 
review criteria) and during the commission-review period. Once draft criteria
developed and circulated for comment, it should be more apparent what, if
effect those criteria might have on the status of the Appalachian Trail as a
unit of the 
national park system.

A more immediate threat to the trail is the loss of funding for land
by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. The House Interior
bill reduced appropriations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (the
source of 
funding for NPS and USFS land acquisition) from an already depressed FY'95
level of 
$235 million to only $51.5 million (a 76-percent reduction). Of that amount,
million is intended for "acquisition management" to wind down
land-acquisition operations, 
while $25.1 million is provided for actual land acquisition, primarily for
"emergencies and 
hardships," for the four affected federal agencies. The National Park
 for example, would receive only $6 million for land acquisition associated
with all
 368 units of the national park system. (In the past, the NPS A.T.
program alone has received $6 million). With such limited funding, it is
likely that
 little or no funding would be available for land acquisition along the
The House action is viewed as the first step toward a proposed five- or 
even seven-year moratorium on all federal land acquisition. ATC is
concerned members to contact their senators and urge them to support a larger
LWCF appropriation and to provide a line-item appropriation for both the 
National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service A.T. land-acquisition programs.

The Senate is expected to mark-up it's version of the Interior appropriations
bill in mid- to late July.