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102nd Congress mixes action and delay.

With the elections and the economy occupying center stage, the 102nd Congress did not attain many landmarks in conservation. Most big decisions were put off until 1993. Nonetheless, conservationists made real progress on a number of major issues. Congress also passed man important smaller measures.

One of these established Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys. The area had previously been Fort Jefferson National Monument but was declared a national park to better reflect its significance. The new park contains the least disturbed coral reef system in the continental United States, and tens of thousands of birds flock to the islands each year.

"NPCA first proposed a decade ago that the Dry Tortugas become a national park to signify the importance of their marine resources and our national commitment to protect them, " said NPCA President Paul Pritchard. He gave credit to Florida's Rep. Dante Fascell (D) and senators Bob Graham (D) and Connie Mack (R).

NPCA put a high priority on assuring protection for the only place on current U.S. territory where the Columbus expeditions are believed to have landed. The new Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix also includes one of the Virgin Islands' most pristine areas.

Congress made several other additions to the National Park System. A Topeka, Kansas, school that figured in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case was declared a national historic site. Manzanar, a camp in California where Japanese-Americans were held during World War II, received the same designation. The Marsh-Billings house in Vermont, home of early conservationist George Perkins Marsh, was made a national historical park. The Niobrara River in Nebraska became a national scenic river. And Alabama's Little River Canyon, "the Grand Canyon of the East," became a national preserve. There will also be a study of the proposed coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail for hikers and bicyclists.

The boundaries of roughly a dozen parks were expanded, including Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana, several Revolutionary War and Civil War sites, and Mound City National Monument in Ohio, renamed Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (see page 37).

Other legislation will help to protect parks. Two dams that block once-spectacular salmon runs on Olympic National Park's Elwha River may finally be removed. A new law directs the Interior Secretary to study ways of restoring the fish runs. It indicates that, unless there are major environmental drawbacks, removing the dams is the preferred method. A water bill comes to the aid of Grand Canyon National Park, requiring that Glen Canyon dam upstream be operated in a less damaging manner.

Congress approved a measure aimed at "park pork" projects. It prevents appropriations committees from earmarking NPS funds for projects not approved by Congress as a whole.

Conservationists blocked other bills successfully. In 1991, a Senate energy bill opening the Arctic National Wild-life Refuge to oil and gas drilling was scuttled. The provision was absent from energy legislation passed in 1992.

Alaska's congressional delegation pushed to open Glacier Bay National Park to commercial and subsistence fishing and to more cruise ships. After lobbying efforts by NPCA and other groups, no such bill was passed, but the proposal will likely return in 1993.

So will some major environmental proposals. Legislation expanding protection for the California desert passed the House in late 1991 but did not clear the Senate in 1992. Californians helped its chances for next session by electing new senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who support the proposal.

Congress held hearings in 1992 on reform of the park concessions system, under which businesses provide visitor services in the parks. NPCA testified that the system is anti-competitive, a bad deal for the government financially, and fosters development and overuse at the expense of preservation. Reform legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), will be back in 1993.

Yellowstone's famous geysers and hot springs were left at risk when Congress failed to move quickly on a bill banning geothermal energy development within 15 miles of the park until its effects are studied. The Old Faithful Protection Act passed the House in November 1991 but did not clear the Senate in 1992. A moratorium on geothermal leasing and development north of the park expired in April.

An exchange of state inholdings in Utah's national parks, forests, and Indian reservations for mineral interests elsewhere in the state also failed to clear Congress before adjournment, as did resolutions to protect the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers in Alaska and Canada from a proposed massive copper mine.

Of all the issues to return in 1993, perhaps the biggest fight will be reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act, which Congress put off this year.

For fiscal year 1993, Congress provided the Park Service with $1.395 billion, an $8-million increase from last year. In all categories except construction, however, funding was lower than the Bush Administration proposed.

Compared to last year, the Park Service's basic operations budget grew by $39 million to improve maintenance and resources management. But some park managers believe that costs the parks had to absorb created an overall 3-percent cut in operational funding.

Land purchase funds rose more than $8 million, benefiting Channel Islands National Park in California and Saguaro National Monument in Arizona.

Western senators opposed to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone were unsuccessful in trying to delete funds for the Park Service to participate in a study on reintroduction.

The appropriations bill prohibits the Park Service from using any funds to construct a massive hotel complex at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, which NPCA holds is excessive and damaging. Instead, the bill directs the Park Service to restudy the proposal. The Park Service has asked Dale Crane, NPCA's Pacific Northwest regional director, to participate in the study process. Congress also did not provide funding for a controversial hotel project at Denali National Park (see page 14).

The House appropriations bill included a one-year moratorium on recognizing right-of-way claims made under an 1866 statute. Under Revised Statute 2477, states and counties are claiming the right to develop and expand old dirt roads and tracks that cross national parks and other federal lands. The final House-Senate bill did not contain the moratorium but does require the Interior Department to complete a study of the issue by May.


* After Andrew. Recovery from Hurricane Andrew is under way at Everglades and Biscayne national parks. The main park entrance at Everglades was scheduled to reopen in mid-December, and portions of Biscayne were to open on January 1. Employees left homeless have now found temporary or permanent housing. Damaged facilities are receiving temporary repairs; others will have to be rebuilt. NPCA is coordinating this year's Everglades Coalition conference, February 20-23 in Tallahassee. It will focus on the aftermath of the storm as well as other major problems confronting the Everglades. Contact Ellen Wilson at (202) 223-6722.

* Sightings. A film crew in Yellowstone this August returned with footage of what biologists think may be a wolf. Likely wolf sightings in the region have been on the rise. It is unclear if the animals are hybrids or escaped pets or if wolves are naturally recolonizing the area, but reintroduction still seems the best way to ensure the wolf's return.

* Shift on appeals. The Interior Department announced this fall that it will allow oil and gas drilling on public lands to proceed while under appeal. The policy shift weakens the power of citizen appeals, since by the time a case is decided, the environmental damage may already be done.
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Title Annotation:conservation policy
Publication:National Parks
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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