Wyden Calls for Creative Fixes for National Park Maintenance Backlog

July 25, 2013

Washington, D.C. – Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today called for creative ways to address the estimated $11 billion maintenance backlog facing America’s national parks.

“While the creation of our national park system is one of our country’s greatest successes, the Park Service faces significant funding challenges in taking care of the more than 400 national parks, monuments, and other sites that Congress and the President have entrusted to its protection,” Wyden said. “We need to get the money where the need is.”

The director of the National Park Service, Wyden and other committee members discussed possible ways to fund the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog, including raising entrance fees for non-U.S. citizens to keep up with an increasing number of foreign visitors each year.

Today’s discussion also encouraged public-private cost-share agreements, such as the $50 million in dedicated funding Wyden and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, included in helium legislation earlier this year to pay for the government’s share of challenge cost-share agreements for deferred maintenance projects. Additionally, members acknowledged the need to reauthorize legislation to collect park fees, which expires in December 2014 and would cost the Park Service $180 million annually if not extended.

Wyden pointed to cases where land acquisition can lower park maintenance costs, as with Oregon Caves National Monument, where expanding the protected area to include the cave’s water source would hold down the cost of maintenance. Wyden sponsored legislation, the Oregon Caves Revitalization Act (S. 354), earlier this year along with Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to do just that. 

“My point is, park acquisition and maintenance costs are not always in conflict,” Wyden said. “We ought to try to find ways to intertwine this theory that acquisition and park maintenance together can be part of an effective, and cost-effective, approach to stewardship.”

Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, agreed with Wyden that land acquisition can help reduce park maintenance costs.

“Oregon Caves is a perfect example where the boundary addition that we have proposed would protect the watershed to the cave itself,” Jarvis said. “Buying lands can save money.”

Additionally, in light of the upcoming centennial of the national park system in 2016, Jarvis said the NPS is looking at ways to establish both a national endowment for the national park system, as well as endowments for individual parks that would allow Americans to give back to specific national parks they enjoy.

While the National Park Service estimates that it would need to spend more than $700 million annually for maintenance, the NPS has historically spent much less than that, including about $392 million to address deferred maintenance in fiscal year 2012.

Park maintenance costs are mainly made up of road, bridge and tunnel repairs, as well as other facility and infrastructure maintenance. Currently, needed road maintenance is estimated to be $5.5 billion; bridge and tunnel repairs constitute another $2.5 billion; and facilities and infrastructure maintenance costs total $3.5 billion.

Wyden said he will continue to work with the administration and the other committee members to determine how best to fund the deferred maintenance backlog and incorporate many of the approaches discussed in today’s hearing.