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Spending on national parks should be increased by at least $700 million over the next seven years, an independent panel urged Congress on Thursday .
The additional spending should bring increased tourism, promote enjoyment of the outdoors and help preserve national treasures for future generations, the panel said.
The bipartisan National Parks Second Century Commission also urged President Barack Obama to appoint a panel charged with promoting the parks and raising private money in time for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. It also called for an expansion of the National Park Service’s mission, making education an explicit part of the agency for the first time.
“America stands at a crossroads: Down one road lie missed opportunities and irretrievable loss of our natural and cultural legacy. Down the other is a future in which national parks — protected forever and for all — help forge a better world,” the commission said.
The panel, chaired by former Sens. Howard Baker of Tennessee and J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, presented the 52-page report to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday.
Salazar said a spending request by Obama for the next fiscal year would increase park spending by $100 million — exactly the amount the group recommended.
Salazar called preserving and enhancing national parks a solemn obligation, and said he and Obama are committed to honoring that pledge.
“These are beautiful places and historic sites that have been passed on to us by past generations, and now we have a responsibility to pass on these treasures to our children and grandchildren,” Salazar said.
Baker, a Republican, and Johnston, a Democrat, worked on the report for 13 months. The commission was made up of 26 national leaders and experts, including scientists, historians, conservationists, academics, business leaders, policy experts and retired National Park Service executives. The panel held five public hearings at national parks across the country.
“The national parks truly are America’s best idea, and these recommendations will make the national parks even more central to the lives of all Americans,” Johnston said.
Baker called park expansion “an issue whose time has come,” adding that for the first time, he senses that the American public “has come to understand the importance of the park system in a broad-based way.”
Baker and other speakers were confident the report would benefit from a coincidence of timing: PBS is set to air a six-part documentary series on national parks directed by Ken Burns beginning Sunday.
The series, called “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” is scheduled to run through Oct. 2 on most PBS stations.
On the Net:
PBS series: http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks