Interior chief defends policies
MITCHELL; The Associated Press
The News Tribune
Interior Secretary Gale Norton outlined the Bush administration's
national park improvements Thursday and responded to critics who say
the administration hasn't done enough.
"Some critics give the impression that the national parks are
in dire condition because they lack funds," Norton told hundreds
of lawmakers attending a three-day meeting of the American Legislative
Exchange Council in Seattle. "The reality is that, compared to
other nondefense federal agencies, the Park Service has received large
increases in funding over the past 25 years."
The Park Service's operations budget of $1.8 billion is 20 percent
higher than when George Bush took office, she said.
She said Bush has committed to investing $4.9 billion to eliminate
the park maintenance backlog the administration inherited in 2001.
As part of that commitment, he has made it a priority to preserve
facilities and natural resources in national parks - a system that
covers 84 million acres - as well as protect and enhance visitor and
She said National Park employees have undertaken or completed 4,000
park projects across the country, and visitors are seeing improved
trails and roads, more accessible campgrounds and reduced environmental
threats because of better sewer and water systems.
"The political temptation with national parks is to grab headlines
by creating lots of new parks," Norton said. "We decided
that instead of generating ribbon-cutting ceremonies, we should take
care of what we already have."
Critics weren't buying that assessment, saying the national parks
are in poor condition and that Norton has offered no new solutions.
"Instead of solving the problem, she's just being defensive about
it," said Heather Weiner, northwest regional director of the
National Parks Conservation Association.
The association has said the Park Service since 2001 has spent only
$662 million in new money to reduce a backlog of maintenance needs,
while the rest of the money is going to repairs that do not ease the
Weiner said national parks in Washington state, like those across
the country, have struggled with fewer seasonal rangers and interpretive
programs because of insufficient funding.
She said staff numbers at Crater Lake in Oregon are down by about
a third since 2002, while at Olympic National Park only about 25 seasonal
rangers were hired this year, compared with 130 in 2001.