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News for December 8, 2021

National Park System To Benefit Billions From Infrastructure Legislation

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From better roads and bridges, improved connectivity to wildlife, better watersheds, and climate change mitigation initiatives, the $1 trillion infrastructure plan approved by Congress is expected to cover all angles of the National Park System.

According to a report, funding will be made available for projects designed to minimize collisions between animals and vehicles as well as to pay for the rehabilitation of roads such as the Tioga Road through Yosemite National Park and also make investments in improving the habitat of wildlife.

“Congress demonstrated a common ground commitment to repairing America’s infrastructure, including in our national parks and surrounding communities,” National Parks Conservation Association President Theresa Pierno said last week after Congress passed the infrastructure package and sent it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

“This major legislative victory supports communities as they recover from the ongoing pandemic, while also building back and strengthening park roads, bridges, transit, and water systems in the face of climate change.”

“This investment in America is also an investment in our 423 national parks. The Great Smoky Mountains need bridge repairs and efforts to keep black bears and drivers safe along the popular Pigeon River Gorge roadway,” added Pierno.

“In Denali, the climate crisis has created impassible landslides on the road that leads into the heart of the park, requiring innovative solutions with a multimillion-dollar price-tag. And investing in a new shuttle service to Pullman National Monument on Chicago’s Southside will connect people with parks and support local tourism.”

The legislation approved following Congress in 2020, voted to pour $6.5 billion into the park system in the next five years to address neglected maintenance stands, to provide the largest one-two funding ever in the park system, which has been struggling to keep up with the increasing demands for maintenance and is being affected by climate change.

The bill’s passage also shines the spotlight over Charles F. Sams’ nomination to head the National Park Service. Some senators raised questions last month about how the Park Service was deciding where it was best to allocate $1.3 billion annually it gets to deal with the backlog of maintenance.

At the time of the hearing last month, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) requested Sams—should he be confirmed—ensure that the funds are “distributed fairly among the parks and the states, no matter their location or their size.”

How the Park Service is spending Great American Outdoor Act funding was also brought up by Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, who stated that Virginia, North Carolina, and New York—three states that have a small amount of federal land—received millions more GAOA dollars than Utah which is a state in which the federal government has 66 to 67 percent of the land and in which national parks struggle with issues of maintenance.

For Sams, if the entire Senate confirms him to become the Park Service director, the money in the Infrastructure package provides an opportunity to oversee major improvements in the park system and make sure that the money is equally distributed across the large and small units of the park system.

The people who were following Congress in the process of constructing the infrastructure package noted that it would introduce the following initiatives and funds into national parks and other areas:

  • $350 million to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and support enhanced connectivity to help animals adapt to the changing climate. Each year an estimated 1-2 million collisions with large species results in close to 30,000 human injuries and hundreds of fatalities. These accidents add up to $8 billion in costs to motorists.
  • $1.4 billion so visitors can better access the park system and other public lands through the Federal Lands Access Program. Such transportation investments can also reduce emissions as well as congestion in some of the most visited parks.
  • $3.2 billion for aquatic ecosystem restoration projects and ecosystem restoration programs in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Delaware Basin to restore and better protect the waterways and surrounding communities from intensifying climate-change threats.
  • $355 million a year for large repair projects by federal land management agencies and tribes. Park benefits could include reconstruction of the Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone and Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park.
  • $35 billion in wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water infrastructure investments to help improve water quality across America, including within national park boundaries and park-adjacent communities.
  • Significant investments in programs aimed at enhancing the resiliency of Western watersheds to climate change and drought, including $300 million to implement the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans, $3.2 billion to modernize aging agricultural infrastructure and generate benefits for fish and wildlife, and $50 million to support ongoing Endangered Species recovery efforts that sustain habitat for native fish.

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable was delighted about the funding package, where President Jessica Wahl Turner said it carries $100 million for outdoor recreation infrastructure support.

“This infrastructure package provides an opportunity to not only rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, and airports but also to improve the infrastructure behind our beloved public lands and waters,” she said. 

“Meaningful investments in transportation, public lands, rural development, and natural infrastructure connect more people to the outdoors and strengthen the outdoor recreation economy. This creates new jobs, helps the U.S. remain globally competitive, and ensures we recover from the impacts the pandemic has had on businesses, local communities, our health, and our quality of life.”

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