The House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill that would require public participation before a president designates a national park. The proposed bill, H.R. 1459, strips presidents of the power given to them under the American Antiques Act of 1906 to designate a national park.
Specifically, the bill seeks to classify national park declarations under the Antiquities Act as a major federal action and would would require the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to be applied. To meet NEPA requirements, federal agencies must prepare a detailed statement called an environmental impact statement (EIS).
The bill would also limit national park declarations to one per state during a president’s four-year term in office, unless otherwise approved by Congress.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) who criticized President Barack Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act earlier this month to expand the Coastal California National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. Bishop characterized Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act as “disappointing to say the least.” He added that it “is also purely political and undermines sincere efforts to reach consensus on questions of conservation.” Bishop described H.R. 1459 as being “about transparency and fairness.”
Bishop claimed that Obama going around the Congress to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in the Coastal California monument “only hurts our country as we move forward tackling some of the biggest issues facing the American people.” A recent report about the economic value of the National Park Service shows otherwise. In 2012, national parks brought $1.5 billion in economic benefits. National parks had more than 282 million visitors in 2012, an increase of 3.9 million over 2011, and those visitors spent $14.7 million in local gateway communities. The money spent by the visitors to national parks contributed 243,000 jobs and $9.3 billion in labor income, according to the report.
A look at some specific instances of how national parks brought money and jobs to gateway communities shows just how valuable they are to the overall economy. Take the three Flagstaff, Ariz. area national parks (Sunset Crater Volcano, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki). There were 489,906 visitors to the three parks who spent $26,362,000 in gateway communities which supported 337 jobs in those communities. Or take the Fire Island National Seashore in the state of New York which had 483,334 visitors in 2012. Those visitors spent more than $19 million in gateway communities which supported 206 jobs.
The 16-day government shutdown in October drastically affected NPS visitation and spending in gateway communities, according to another report. All 401 national parks were closed during the shutdown. That resulted in a 7.88 million decrease, a 33.3 percent decline, in overall October visitation — which caused in a loss of $414 million to gateway communities. A handful of national parks were able to open with state funding before the shutdown ended. For every dollar of funding for those 14 national parks opened with state funding, about $10 was generated in visitor spending.
“National parks are the best idea we ever had,” declared Wallace Stegner, the writer and environmentalist, in 1983. They certainly are a good idea for gateway communities who benefit from the tourism and jobs created.
Image credit: Chris M. Morris