Bush neglects America's national parks

During the 2000 presidential race, when then-Texas Gov. George W Bush needed a way to burnish his environmental credentials, he turned to America’s parklands. Standing by the banks of the Skykomish River, the soon-to-be-president promised to pour billions into the National Park Service: “The Clinton-Gore administration has chosen to expand the public ownership land instead of tending to our parks,” he declared. “Their failure to make maintenance a priority has left our parks at risk and at the breaking point.”

Almost eight years on, Bush has utterly failed to fix the problems he once pledged to solve. He’s poured almost $7 billion into America’s parks in the past eight years; but in the process, the president has allowed the National Park Service to rack up a greater-than-ever backlog of deferred maintenance. According to Congressional Quarterly, fixing the accumulated problems from Bush’s two terms will cost his successor somewhere in the region of $8.7 billion.

That’s because in real terms, Bush has actually failed to increase park spending. Park appropriations have grown by about 9 percent since 2001; adjusted for inflation, that works out at a real-terms spending cut of almost 11 percent. (The Clinton-Gore administration, by contrast, increased Park Service funding by 49 percent in real terms.)

Park officials steer what money they have towards the most frequently visited areas of America’s national parks, so the impact of Bush’s negligence isn’t always obvious. Behind the scenes, though, things are looking bleak. Last year, a government report found that 90 percent of roads in national parks are in fair to poor condition; meanwhile with the Park Service’s construction and rehabilitation budgets are down by 57 percent since the Clinton era, watchdogs say that park buildings are literally falling apart, and many park historical exhibits are desperately in need of replacement.

With the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary approaching in 2016, the Bush administration now says it hopes to establish a public-private partnership to spruce up America’s parks. Unfortunately, the president is also pushing ahead with plans to allow people to carry guns in national parks, and to allow utility companies to pollute sites close to park boundaries. In the final balance, Bush’s renovation plans look likely to prove too little, too late: a last-minute face-lift can’t make up for eight years of broken promises.

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