Washington, USA — President Bush has proposed a budget boostfor the National Park Service that would provide more rangers and betterservices, the first in a planned 10 years of increased funding for the parks.
Bush’s 2008 budget blueprint also would increase some habitat protection onWestern lands open to energy development, allow the sale of some federal forestlands, reduce payments to some rural counties and decrease funding for firepreparedness, while hiring more firefighters.
On Monday Bush sent to Congress a 2008 budget request of $10.7 billion for theInterior Department. That’s an increase of $178 million over what Bush requestedfor 2007 but marks a drop of $250.4 million, or 2.3 percent, below the 2006funding level.
The Republican-led Congress did not finish its spending bills before adjourninglast year, so lawmakers are still working on the 2007 levels.
The 2008 budget request for park operations is $2.1 billion, an increase of$230 million over what Bush requested for 2007.
That $230 million increase includes the president’s Centennial Commitment, whichproposes $100 million per year for the next 10 years in advance of the parks’100th anniversary in 2016. That is the largest increase ever for park operations,which pays employee salaries, utilities and other such needs.
The money would hire 3,000 more seasonal rangers, guides and maintenance workersas well as improve landscapes, repair buildings, increase volunteer hours andenroll more kids in the Junior and Web Ranger programs.
The budget requests $33.8 million for Yellowstone National Park, said spokesmanAl Nash. That’s a boost over the $31.4 million requested in 2007 and the $30.6million enacted in 2006.
The Yellowstone money would go to cover fixed costs such as salary increases,have a full-time volunteer coordinator and 75 additional seasonal positions,Nash said.
“Certainly details of … funds that would allow us to focus specificallyon serving visitors and protecting the park is great,” Nash said.”Hearing that this is proposed as the first year of a decadelong effort toimprove our ability to do our job is very encouraging.”
The 2008 budget requests an additional $1.8 million for the operating needs ofGlacier, a 15 percent increase over the park’s fiscal year 2006 budget,according to the National Parks Conservation Association, which praised the move.
It also requests an additional $2.1 million for Grand Teton’s operating needs, a20 percent increase over the 2006 budget, the group said.
Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., the top Republican on the National Parks subcommittee,also praised the budget.
“I have long advocated for a considerably larger investment in our nationaltreasures and for better funding of the Park Service’s operations,” Thomassaid.
The administration also proposed a Centennial Challenge to encourage individuals,foundations and businesses to donate $100 million each year for the next 10years to the Park Service, to be matched with up to $100 million in mandatoryfederal funding. Legislation on the challenge will be proposed soon, officialssaid.
Interior officials also touted funding for a Healthy Lands Initiative to protectwildlife and habitat on Western public lands where energy production occurs. The2008 budget includes $22 million for the initiative. That would give $15 millionfor the BLM to conduct landscape-scale conservation, $5 million for USGS and $2million for FWS.
The budget includes $2 million for habitat and species conservation activitiesin Wyoming’s Green River Basin.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne singled out southwest Wyoming as an area of”significant wildlife habitat and rapid energy development.” TheHealthy Lands Initiative would build upon existing partnerships to restore71,000 acres in the Green River Basin, he said.
The BLM budget request, excluding wildland fire management, is $1 billion, or$6.9 million more than Bush asked for in the 2007 budget. The budget includes a$3 million increase for expanded oil and gas inspection and monitoringactivities and a $2 million increase for management of the hard rock miningprogram.
But the BLM budget also includes $36 million in reductions to specific programs.The programs include cultural resources management, wild horse and burromanagement, resource management planning and deferred maintenance among others.
The 2008 budget proposes $801.8 million to support fire preparedness,suppression, fuels reduction and burned area rehabilitation. Of that, $294.4million would go for suppression, an increase of $37.4 million over 2007.
The 2008 fire preparedness program budget is $268.3 million, a drop of $17.2million from the 2007 level. “A significant portion of this reduction willbe achieved by eliminating management and support positions and lower-priorityactivities,” the budget request states.
To reduce the number of large costly fires, the fire-management program willrealign its resources to better support initial attack capability, including theaddition of more than 250 firefighters, officials said.
Under the hazardous fuels area, Interior plans to discontinue funding for theUniversity of Montana Center for Landscape Analysis and other activities.
The Fish and Wildlife Service budget request is $1.3 billion, a decrease of $4.8million compared to Bush’s 2007 request. It includes an increase of $2.2 millionfor gray wolf and Yellowstone grizzly bear recovery activities.
The budget also would reduce Payments in Lieu of Taxes to $190 million, a dropof $42.5 million from the 2007 continuing resolution. Those are payments that goto local governments in lieu of tax revenue for federal lands in their areas.
For the second time, the budget proposes to sell off $800 million of ForestService lands. Half the money would be used for the Secure Rural Schoolsprograms while the other half would be used for conservation education, habitatimprovement and other land needs. Western senators strongly opposed the measurelast Congress and will do so again.
In a potentially controversial move, the budget proposes to expand the set oflands the BLM would be allowed to sell, allowing the bureau to use updatedmanagement plans to identify areas suitable for disposal. Part of the revenuewould flow back to the BLM for conservation efforts, but 70 percent of it wouldgo to the U.S. Treasury to reduce the deficit.
Officials also touted a $16 million increase to fund the Safe Indian CommunitiesInitiative. That will increase law enforcement presence and training on triballands to fight the production and distribution of methamphetamine. The budgetalso proposes $15 million to improve the performance of students in Indianschools.
But the Indian Affairs budget also includes reductions in several other areas,including drops of $3.8 million for rights protection programs, $12.7 millionfor tribal education assistance, and $4.6 million of reductions to environmentalquality projects, real estate services and forestry projects. It also asks for$139.8 million for education construction, a drop of $17.6 million below 2007.