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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Gale Norton
Interior Secretary

July 9, 2004

Gale Norton

Hi, I'm Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Many Americans are planning to take vacations this summer to our national parks. We are happy to be welcoming a million visitors a day to our national parks. Over the past three years, we have worked hard to improve the facilities and the overall visitor experience at our parks, committing more money per employee, per visitor and per park than at any other time in our nation's history. While there is still much work to be done, we are pleased with the progress Park Service employees have made in reducing a huge backlog of maintenance and repair projects that we inherited when we took office.

Yesterday I released a report describing our investments to improve parks. The future of our parks is bright. I am pleased to answer your questions now.

Lisa, from Alexandria writes:
I think we are moving in the right direction Secretary Norton, but we need more money. According to the Washington Post this morning, 85 percent of parks are receiving less money this year than last.

Gale Norton
Our critics have made the charge that Parks are receiving less money, but they are only looking at one part of our Parks budget. If you look at the overall budget for each Park, the budget has increased for almost every Park.

Debi, from Ocala writes:
Is it true that Park Rangers have to call budget cuts "service level adjustments"?

Gale Norton
No one in Washington, DC ordered Park Rangers to use the phrase you mentioned. It came from a memo sent by someone in one of our regional offices. We have asked our employees to continue their tradition of providing high quality services to visitors, and most visitors to National Parks praise the work of our employees.

Steve, from St. Petersburg, Florida writes:
According to our newspaper this morning, the Bush administration claims to have increased spending on national parks, but it counts money used to respond to natural disasters such as fires and to beef up domestic security. Is that right?

Gale Norton
Park operating budgets have increased from $1.4 billion in 2001 to $1.63 billion in 2004. The President's 2005 park operating budget would climb to $1.8 billion. These amounts do not include special emergency funds for domestic security. NPS expenditures in fire fighting have remained relatively stable over the past four years. In addition to increases in the operating budget, the President's federal highway legislation would double funding for park roads. Construction spending has increased from $180 million in 2001 to nearly $330 million in 2005.

Rod, from Nashville writes:
It concerns me that my favorite Park -- the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- has been named the most polluted Park in America. What is being done to turn this around?

Gale Norton
The Bush Administration has proposed the Clear Skies Initiative that will improve air quality in our national parks. In April 2004, the Administration proposed a new rule on Regional Haze that will help improve visibility in parks by requiring the installation of best available retrofit technology on older facilities emitting harmful pollution.

The air in our national parks will significantly benefit from these new regulations. For example, the regulation will reduce pollutants around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by 70 to 80 percent.

According to a recent news interview by Jim Renfro, the Air Quality Specialist from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Clear Skies Initiative will be a positive overall step that should reduce pollutants in the park by 70 to 80 percent over the next 10 to 15 years. "These are large reductions no matter how you look at it," Renfro said. "The benefits are clearly there . . .

We are in an area that will clearly benefit the most from the Clear Skies Initiative. When those reductions start to occur, and most of the improvements will be in the East, the Smokies will be downwind where those improvements are going to happen."

Steve, from Colorado writes:
Isn't it really more fair to say that there has only been $662 million in "new money?"

Gale Norton
The NPS budget has grown over 20% since 2001 when the Bush Administration took office. For maintenance of facilities and roads, the NPS budget will have around a quarter-billion dollars per year more than it had in 2001. The President's budget, including spending on park roads, would bring over $1.5 billion in new funds to parks for maintenance improvements. We have cyclic ongoing routine maintenance funding, prioritized our construction funds toward the maintenance backlog, and NPS is now working smarter to achieve maintenance goals more efficiently. Together, these efforts enable us to meet the President's goal of investing $4.9 billion to address the maintenance backlog.

Sandy, from Maine writes:
What is being done about Acadia National Park's serious budget shortfall?

Gale Norton
The budget for Acadia National Park has actually grown significantly since President Bush took office. In 2001, Acadia's base funding was $4.2 million. For 2004, Acadia's budget had climbed to $6.3 million. In addition, Acadia has received significant maintenance and construction increases. These funds have jumped from $185,000 in 2001 to funding in 2003 and 2004 for special projects totaling $15.6 million. The park also received over $2 million in recreation fee and concession funds. These significant increases are enabling Acadia to address long-standing goals to improve the visitor experience.

Tobi, from Los Angeles writes:
Secretary Norton, I read on a conservation website that only a handful of national parks have financial experts on hand. If there have been so many problems with funding national parks, how can this be?

Thank you for taking my question.

Gale Norton
Traditionally, few parks had focused on enhancing financial or business management expertise. Because our 388 park units manage over 84 million acres and nearly 30,000 buildings and other infrastructure, they require sophisticated business management. A centerpiece of this Administration is to bring those skills and management excellence to our parks. We are preparing business plans for many parks. We have created, for the first-time ever, a full inventory of park facilities and now have an assessment of their condition. Using a state of the art facilities management system, for the first time ever park superintendents can track maintenance needs and plan for them. We have instituted better fleet management so dollars are not wasted on costly vehicles that don't meet park needs. All these efforts are part of our focus on results-making our parks outstanding places for visitor enjoyment and resource protection.

David, from Alexandria, VA writes:
How is the park service addressing the growing problem of invasive and exotic species in national parks?

Gale Norton
The National Park Service's Natural Resource Challenge seeks to restore natural ecosystems and wildlife. One way the park service accomplishes these goals is by preventing exotic plants and animals from crowding out native species. For example, we have been removing the invasive species of tamarisk and perennial pepperweed from the Green and Yampa Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah. The National Park Service has deployed 16 exotic plant management teams to eradicate and monitor exotic plant species.

Jeff, from Colombus writes:
What is your opinion on the bill in Congress which would make fees permanent and extend the option to charge for recreation on federal lands that now are free.

Gale Norton
We strongly support continuation of the interagency recreation fee program that enables our land management agencies to re-invest recreation fees at recreation sites. The fee demonstration program provides Department of the Interior's agencies over $150 million each year. These funds go directly to enhancing visitor recreation services and opportunities. Our agencies have used recreation fees to expand trails, build boat ramps, create new and better campgrounds, upgrade visitor centers, and improve many other recreation services. New bills in Congress would not impose fees on lands that are now free. Land management agencies currently have authority to charge fees for recreation activities that directly benefit individual users at sites with recreation related infrastructure. The proposed bills would continue this focus but would ensure that agencies can retain fees to make improvements rather than having revenues go to the federal treasury.

Markie, from Beaverton writes:
Crater Lake has $245,000 less to spend than it did two years ago, not counting inflation. Crater Lake needs MORE money

Gale Norton
When this Administration took office, the Crater Lake National Park base operating budget was $3.9 million. In the President's 2005 budget, Crater Lake would receive $4.1 million. In addition, Crater Lake has received significant new funds for construction and maintenance. In 2001, Crater Lake received $521,000 for these purposes. In 2003 and 2004 the park received over $2 million, with another $1 million scheduled for 2005. The Park will also receive a major influx of repaid and rehabilitation money, rising from $149,000 in 2001 to $1.2 million in 2005.

Gale Norton
Thank you for all your good questions. Our parks are cherished and will always need our care. I know the President and First Lady greatly enjoy the national parks. Our National Park Service employees welcome all Americans to come enjoy our parks. Whether you want to learn about our nation's patriotic history, or see our most magnificent vistas--our national parks can offer a special opportunity. We look forward to seeing you!

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