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tv   Hearing on the State of the National Park Service  CSPAN  May 29, 2021 7:59pm-9:23pm EDT

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never slow down. businesses went virtual. we powered a new reality. built to keep you ahead. >> they support c-span as a public service along with other television providers giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> the acting director of the park services testify to the congress on the status of national parks after covid-19. also testifying was filmmaker ken burns. who produced the 2009 documentary national parks. america's best idea." >> good morning and welcome to the first national parks subcommittee hearing of the 11
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7th congress. let me thank the witnesses for appearing on the state of our national parks. our national parks play a huge role in what we think about when we think of america. from the national mall in the east to yellowstone and glacier in the west, they hold a special place for millions of americans. they connect us with our history and the national world -- the natural world. they inspire and recharge us at a deep level. this has been a difficult period for the national parks system. frontline park employees had to change how and even if they could interact with the public. many parks services and visitor centers were forced to shutter. many seasonal employees were not hired and gateway communities completely lost their 2020 season. some of our biggest and most famous parks suffered
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significant drops in attendance, but we also saw parks closer to urban centers have increased visitors, showing people still wanted to get outdoors even if they could not travel as far. today's hearing will look at how the parks service, gateway communities and visitors all weathered this difficult time and how we will move forward and what i predict will be one of the biggest seasons -- i think it will be the biggest season in the history of the parks service. it is my hope this hearing will inform our work for the rest of this congress, especially as we work with the national park service to fulfill the responsibilities that comes with the great american outdoors act, which we passed last year. i hope to leave -- to have a hearing on the issue of congestion at our parks later
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this summer, as it is an issue that fully deserves a hearing on its own. let me introduce our witnesses. the acting director of the national park service has been with the prox service for over 30 years. -- parks service for over 30 years. he has also held jobs throughout the service. he served at numerous capacities at the park level, including assignments at big bend national park, one of my favorite national parks. great smoky mountains national park and chattanooga national military park and everglades national park. a tour also at the denver service center, the national park service central planning and design office. ken burns is a filmmaker known to millions of americans for his documentaries. his documentary of the civil war
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i consider the greatest ever produced. his 12 hour emmy award-winning documentary on national parks brought parks to millions around the world and changed how many of us view these landscapes and their history. david mcdonald is the president of the friends of acadia and percent of the national parks alliance steering committee. his leadership of the friends of acadia shows how important nonprofits can be in helping parks to be as successful as they are. we are joined by the chair of the national park hospitality association and group president for prox and travel for delaware north. the national park hospitality association represents the businesses and concessionaires that work with the parks and provide services to park visitors. let me thank everyone for
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appearing today. each witness will have five minutes for opening statements. we will alternate for five minute rounds of questions. >> it is great to have a subcommittee hearing, which i can speak for the chairman, this is our favorite subcommittee. i also want to thank all the witnesses here with us today. i look forward to a good conversation. this is our first national parks subcommittee hearing since the passage of the great american outdoors act. i was proud to work on that important bill. our national parks are part of what truly sets america apart from the rest of the world. this built historic investments at our parks at an important time. the national legacy restoration
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fund created as part of the great american outdoors act is a down payment on infrastructure. we need to ensure it is being implemented efficiently. i am sure the chairman and i will be working on the status of its implementation and important park related issues. today's topic is the state of the national park system. we know the 2 -- that 2020 was a historic year. no one could have predicted the impact of covid-19 on our society. i truly believe our national parks were a refuge for many americans during the pandemic. it was good for the soul when americans visited national parks. tehy allowed folks -- they allowed folks to get outdoors, experience the beauty and history of our country. this is borne out by the
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visitation numbers. i will share numbers from yellowstone national park. despite being closed for a short time and having few international visitors, you'll is no national park still had -- yellowstone national park still had 3.8 million visits. that was only a slight decline from 4 million in 2019. in 2021, visitations are heading above advertised each month. i share the chairman's prediction that we will have record years at our national parks visitation this year. as it warms up, and sometimes it takes a while to do so, our smaller parks are beginning to see visitation rising. i look forward to discussing how we can drive visitation to these smaller parks. i also want to examine how are gateway communities worked
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together during last year and how we can learn from our experience to strengthen relationships between our parks and gateway communities. the state of our parks means the state of our park employees, concessionaires, and those who live and employee morale, employe housing, employee health are all things i have heard about recently. i would like to hear updates about what the park is doing to ensure a healthy and happy workforce. furthermore, questionnaires have had an unprecedented year and we need to ensure we address any issues that arose from last year's park closure. i now turn back to the chairman. i look forward to a good conversation today. >> thank you, senator. i would like to point out there are a series of pictures around
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our hearing room today, some of which showed the beauty of our national parks. not surprisingly, one is in maine and one is in montana. some of them show lines of automobiles and people lined up in order to have access. it's one of the questions we will examine today also in a hearing later this year. i also want to ask to join us mr. ken burns from the state of new hampshire. who has the virtue of being next door to maine. ken burns really introduced the world to america's national parks and did so in an extra ordinary way with his partner dayton duncan. thank you for joining us. we look forward to your testimony. >> thank you mr. chairman. i am grateful to be invited, and
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honor to testify before the committee. i should say at the outset that i am not an expert on the current state of the park system or the impact of covid-19. my life's work has been in telling the history of this nation but i am a believer that are shared in comp kid past has things to say and many lessons for the present. our national parks are a treasure half of -- treasure house of superlatives. from the continent highest mountain to groves of the world's tallest, biggest, and oldest trees in california and nevada. from a sacred volcano in hawaii that gives birth to new land in the pacific to a promontory in maine that cashes the nation's first rays of sun over the atlantic. from the grandest canyon in the arizona to the greatest collection of geysers in a geological wonderland in wyoming. i will add that this treasure house most recently includes a
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spectacular new river gorge. these are biographies of memory and hope countless families have formed an intimate connection with their land and passed along to their children. but he also embodies something less tangible and yet equally enduring, an idea, born in the united states nearly a century after its founding. as uniquely american as the declaration of independence and is just as radical. we decided that a nation's most magnificent places should be set aside and preserved not for royalty or the rich but for everyone and for all time. my colleague and i are both proud to be named honorary park rangers and like to say that the national parks are the declaration of independence applied to the landscape. the writer and historian wallace stagner called national parks the best idea we have ever had. theodore roosevelt, the nation's greatest conservation president considered the idea noteworthy
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in its essential democracy, one of the bed space -- best bits of national treatment americans have to their credit. the national park idea has been constantly debated, consomme tested and is constantly evolving, ultimately embracing historical places that preserve our nation's first principles, highest aspirations, greatest sacrifices. even reminders of its most shameful mistakes. americans tend to take this for granted, saying they seem self-evident. we mistakenly believe that doing so is easy, and also at -- and also automatic. history tells us otherwise. the history of each national park is a story of americans who fell in love with the place so completely they decided that all
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americans generations that they would never now -- know would have a chance to see it with the same pressure on us. it was always a struggle it was never easy. as we made our document rate, we played a thought experiment with each other. imagine the united states without the national parks. yosemite valley could just have easily become a gated community. the rim of the grand canyon could be lined with trophy homes, each one with a keep out sign preventing you from getting into that chasm and feeling connected to the eons of time. the everglades with its wildlife could have been drained and made into shopping centers. yellowstone could be an amusement park called geyser world. beginning in 1872 with the establishment of yellowstone as the world's first national park, your predecessors and previous congresses pointed at the arc of history in a different
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direction. thousands of destitute young men found employment in the conservation corps to help them and their families survive by working to improve the national parks. following world war ii when millions of families loaded in their station wagon and set out to enjoy the parks and overwhelm the facilities. congress and the park service embarked to build better roads and visitor centers to accommodate the crowds and i want to congratulate and thank many of you who last year passed legislation and funding for the parks. there is still obviously more work to be done. at the heart of the national park idea is the notion that every american, whether their ancestors came over on the mayflower or were here to begin with or whether they just arrived, or whether they are from a big city or a farm where their father runs a factory or their mother is a made, every
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american is a part owner of some of the best seafront property in the nation. they own magnificent waterfalls and stunning views. they have a stake in making sure that as theodore roosevelt also said, these places are preserved for their children and their children's children forever with their majestic beauty all on march -- unmarred. >> thank you, mr. burns. that was beautiful. you have given us a new term there will be used around here, geyser world. that is one we don't want to remember. our next witness is sean benge, who is the acting director of the national park service. he has been with the park service for over 30 years.
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i don't have you following ken burns, but give us an update on the status of the park service and the parks as of the beginning of the 2021 summer season. >> it is a hard act to follow. chairman, ranking members, thank you for the opportunity to address the park system, including the impacts of covid-19 on staff and facilities. the last 14 months have brought unprecedented challenges to our parks but they have also shown a spotlight on the importance of parks as spaces for physical and mental health as well as places to reflect who we are as americans and who we want to be. most parks closed interior spaces but retain some level about rex's. by local visited -- while local visitation dropped, a third of the parks posted months with record visitations. a significant number of employees have been on maximum telework during the pandemic but
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law enforcement is starting visitor services and other operational work. employees have shown remarkable ingenuity, flexibility -- ingenuity and flexibly in finding ways to protect visitors during this health crisis in finding ways to limit their own exposures. some operations will continue to be impacted by limited staffing resulting from public health medications. eps is proud to take a leadership role through his clothes -- through its close partnership with the united states. we provide on a range of new and evolving public health issues to promote the health and well-being of visitors and employees. we suspect there will be significant increases in many parts of co-mitigation measures are reduced -- stiffening --
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significant increases in many parts as co-mitigation edgers are reduced. in april, the national park service was the first nationwide mobile app that will assist visitors in planning their visit. visitation and the temporary suspension of entrance fees negatively impacted and concession revenues in fy 20 for a combined loss of a proximally $25 million. parks some savings as utility costs decreased by 5 million. the nps has incurred 16.8 million in covid related expenses to date critically related to supplemental staffing, extra cleaning, personal protective equipment, expanded telework capabilities and a virtual visitor
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experiences. many of the concessionaires and other parks saw significantly reduced operations in 2020. the mps -- nps engaged in listening sessions together information and has worked with concessionaires. 2020 was also a year in which issues around racial justice came to the forefront, including those related to policing. as of march 2021, the national park service has over 1000 body worn cameras in use at park units and the national park unit has worked to develop a robust body worn camera for all of its officers, including the united states park police. nps in tissues -- intends to issue guidance to the field that
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all officers wear body worn cameras by the end of 2021. we are grateful to congress the passage of the great american outdoors act which offers extraordinary opportunities in the infrastructure needed for people to have a safe and real world experience. in fy 21, 1.3 billion for the restoration fund has been invested. we have awarded $150 million in other funds to increase urban recreation opportunities to the outdoor recreation partnership program. we appreciate your support as we work to address the special places under our stewardship and welcome visitors during a challenging time. this concludes my statement. >> david mcdonald is the president of friends of acadia and the president of the national park friends alliance, representing a strong network
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nationwide of volunteer nongovernmental organizations that work with and strengthen the park system. welcome and welcome to the committee. >> chairman king, ranking members and other members of the committee, thank you so much for the invitation to testify and for having the chance to add the perspective of partner organizations to this conversation. i am david mcdonald, president and ceo of friends of acadia in bar harbor, maine. we are an organization that has been working to protect acadia national park and the surrounding communities. next to our committed members and volunteers, we have been able to grant approaching $40 million the park for a variety of projects ranging from trail restoration, youth programs, climate change adaptation, you name it. it is a strong partnership and we are grateful for the incredible work of our colleagues.
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there are organizations like friends of acadia all through this nation park system. they are not just like us but it is a growing community and my other half here today as senator king mentioned is the chair of the steering committee for the national park friends alliance. we are growing dramatically and these entities network, share best practices, and compare notes and lessons learned and come together to work with this agency that we all have in common. so my message to your committee here today coming from a specific park as well as his national view apartments is that our parks have indeed become more important and popular. likewise, the interdependence of the park service has also increased. we really must avail ourselves of every available tool in fact need to create a new tool for
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the coming months and years to ensure that parks are well staffed, well-funded, they are preserved, and we make them available to the visiting public. having said that, let me touch on three themes of my testimony. the pandemic did put tremendous stress on park partner organizations with dramatic reductions in revenue, staff, and operations. however our community has been resourceful and we remain deeply committed to serving the expanding constituency that sot refuge out during the pandemic. number two, national parks have been under resourced for decades. our partners have been looked upon as a resource to help plug this gap, sometimes providing emergent of excellence. over time, partner contributions have increasingly had to provide a margin of survival.
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the pandemic revealed the risks of this shift and undiscovered -- underscored the importance of congress increasing the funding of the operational budget of the national park service. while funding is always important, to unlock the full potential of public private partnerships with organizations like ours, we must also be willing to create a framework of policies and practices at the park service and interior that encourage innovation, flex ability, and entrepreneurship and i want to thank acting director that -- benge for his support. these include the ability of resiliency to climate change, of underserved audiences to bring technology to bear to serve a 21st century experience, solve the acute shortage of seasonal
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housing affecting many communities and the staff needed to run the parks. here in acadia, we will be short on lifeguards, trail workers, visitor employees, all because the pandemic has exacerbated the housing market. a few silver linings have emerged. organizations have replaced programming with digital versions that reach new and expanded audiences. folks have mentioned the tremendous bipartisan support behind the great american outdoors act providing funding to address long deferred maintenance and land acquisition. as with sony aspects of our lives in society, the pandemic has forced our partners to think about how we do our work and our mission. in order to meet this moment we face today when the nature and outdoors and parks are central
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so many people's well-being, it is vital that park partners recognize our increased interdependence cannot respective strengths, and tap into each other's skills and assets in the years ahead. i appreciate the opportunity to be part of the conversation and all of those in the community who are committed to being a resource for the park service going forward. >> thank you mr. mcdonald. i want to welcome mr. scott who represents the national park hospitality association. almost all of our national parks have some concessions. a friend of mine runs a horse concession at acadia. everything from i guess horse riding to hotels and other hospitality facilities. your views, please. >> good morning. thank you chairman and ranking members for the opportunity to
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share with the committee our perspective on the state of the united states national park system. i'm jealous of the nine inches of snow you received last week in bozeman, i am chairman of the board of directors of the national park hospitality association. the association represents small and large businesses that provide amenities in services to park businesses -- park visitors. in addition, i am the group president -- we operate in several national parks and have a presence in yellowstone and glacial -- glacier national parks. we wholeheartedly support the mission to conserve our treasured parks for enjoyment, education, and inspiration. we have partnered with the nps for more than 100 years.
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by law, concessionary services have always been and will continue to be limited to necessary and appropriate services for visitors as determined by the agency. services include lodging, food and beverage, lodging, native american arts and crafts services and more. it includes leaders in the hospitality industry but most importantly small businesses that are often multigenerational , a very specialized to specific park units, typically in challenging locations and often distant from traditional labor markets. as the distinguished members of this committee are aware, 20/20 was a challenging year. prior to the pandemic, we anticipated revenues of nearly $2 billion in the park system and employment levels of 25,000 people. all the while, the complete and
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impartial closure of the parks led to a dramatic reduction in revenue averaging 60%. while some members were able to access economic recovery provisions in the covid-19 relief legislation passed by congress, meaningful direct assistance was limited. because of this more than 90 operators filed requests for reductions in franchise fees as permitted in our contracts in the events of extraordinary unanticipated changes. were happy to report that in late march, nps offered a contract lengthening too many members which offered a critical lifeline. we think the department interior secretary and senior leadership of the park service for being a partner in responding to covid-19 challenges. while this helped many members, a few were shut out and we encouraged the nps to help those
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who continue to have outstanding relief requests. as we come out of the pandemic, we will continue to adjust our operations as needed and there are important lessons we will continue to apply. in addition to pressing matters, and pha -- npha applauds recent proposals to modify some regulations written more than 20 years ago and to make the concession programs more responsive visitors. npha worked closely in recommending some of these changes and we look -- and we work closely on finalizing these regulatory changes. we would be remiss if we did not mention steadfast work of the members of this committee in the passage of the great american outdoors act. deferred maintenance efforts
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post threat to access, the environment, and to the safety of visitors. we will play a vital role in revitalizing federal lands. npha >> let me begin questioning. what is the status of the park service plan for this year with regard to covid in terms of any kind of limitations, mask work
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requirements, those kinds of things. what is the plan for 2021? >> i think it's important to recognize the extraordinarily dynamic environment as a progression of the disease changes. we are in a different place today than we were a month or two once ago. our guidance is framed by the executive orders of the president, doi, policy and opm and omb guidance thinking about our ability to welcome visitors, we are like the other enterprise. there are probably very few businesses operating in the same level they were pre-covid. we have four and 23 units in the
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national park service and we are extraordinarily decentralized. every part is different in terms of being operational and what they need to be operational. we do believe there are some parks where the visitation will increase we must do what we must do to be ready. the plan of a park ranger is a camp pain -- campaign that will focus on alternative parts that may be less crowded and make sure you have a reservation before you leave out. real time messaging is also a tool so no the parking lot is full before you get there. we are also considering time entry and limiting numbers. >> will decisions on masks be made on an individual park basis or have the departments made this vision based on cdc guidelines it won't be necessary this summer?
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>> we are currently operating under doi and opm, ob md -- omb guidance that is framed by the cdc. it is a changing environment. currently, if you are vaccinated and you are not required to wear a mask if you are an employee or visitor in the park. >> thank you. 1.i want to make and it's awkward to make this point to the acting director, but we need a permanent director. the park service hasn't had one for five years. i hope that is something that is under active consideration in the department. >> thank you senator. no one would be happier to get a permanent director than i would be. i understand and it is noted in the testimony that it would be a priority.
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>> ken burns, a question for you . you documented the beauty and transcendent nature of these parks around the country. none of the problems we are running into is loving places to death where some of the best places, you can't see them, and our committee room we have beautiful pictures of parks but also traffic jams like yosemite. how do we balance public access to the maximum number of americans with not compromising the experience by virtue of all those americans coming to visit their parks. >> thank you senator. this is a fundamental question that we try to address when our series came out in 2009. it is a difficult one. parks need to have their constituencies. if there was nobody there, chances are the parks would come under assault from the very
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american causative nature of things. i look at the lines as a citizen much the same way i look at a line standing in my little town in new hampshire to vote. it means we are participating in the fullest sense in this democracy and as i said in my testimony, this declaration applied to the landscape. i think a good deal of the park planning gives us a chance to reinvigorate, maybe not on the scale of mission 66 did, and reimagining the parks. maybe we have an opportunity to once again, a generation later, to have a new kind of mission that permits us to begin to handle and i think digital technology will help, as they directed that the parking lot ahead of you is full or knowing that the dining room is full. we have a chance as families,
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individuals, but also as a country figure out how to accommodate all the people. as i told my inpatient daughters waiting for a buffalo to go by in yellowstone, this was a good line to be in. >> this is an issue where we may have a hearing dedicated to just this question of how to disperse our visitors between parks and also within parks in order to relieve this problem. senator daines? >> thank you mr. chairman. our gateway communities are a vital part of our park system. ensuring strong partnerships is very critical. what were your takeaways from the last year? what steps do you think the park service needs to strengthen relationships between our parks and the gateway communities? >> i could not agree more.
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we understand the interdependency between parks and gateway communities and strive to be good neighbors with these communities. national park's leadership and individual park managers continue to look for ways to work together with our community leaders that affect the quality of life of residents, park employees and visitors. this includes public health issues, traffic flow, parking, event planning, affordable housing and schools. i think we do a very good job in that space. >> thank you. >> i shared the chairman's sentiment that we are grateful to the yellowstone national park is not called geyser world. i believe yellowstone national park, this is the park i grew up in the shadows of as a kid in montana over many years. they have made a lot of great employees -- improvements in employee housing. we can only recruit and retain
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our best employees if we have adequate housing and places for them to live. as we come out of the pandemic, and out of the day to day activities that are becoming more normal now, how do we ensure our national park employees across the country are supported and taken care of? >> related to housing, the ncs follows the requirements of the housing programs that are set forth by omb. they are expected to live in private market housing unless they perform duties that make them required to live in the park. for the housing -- or if affordable housing is not available nearby. we made it a goal to eliminate poor housing that exists in terms of quality of housing. i think yellowstone is a great example of where we have
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invested a significant amount of money over the last three years. we have replaced over 40 units in that particular park. we are committed to that program and meeting that five-year goal of eliminating poor housing there. affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult to find gateway communities and i certainly understand that and appreciate that situation. i think there are probably part, or probably are parts where additional housing is required. i think we need to be extraordinarily thoughtful on a park by park basis in understanding what that need is. and being able to address that need. it can and should include private and public partnership. >> we had a field hearing of the park subcommittee in montana and the gateway communities there,
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at the gardner high school. we have gateway communities for yellowstone park that are in montana like gardner, west yellowstone, or they are surrounded by federal land and they are landlocked and unable to expand. we have got a constraint on ground where we can build additional housing. it is difficult to recruit talent within the community and at the park as huizinga -- housing prices are high and new housing cannot be built. we are out of land. i'm happy to hear input from others, what options can we look at so that parks can continue to hire and house and retain the best talent? >> thank you senator. i think it is different in each park in terms of need. making sure we have the appropriate planning and analysis in place to understand what they need is and being able
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to walk that with existing inventory is important. once we have determined what the need is, i think there is a number of avenues in which we can fill that need. one of the things that is nice in that space is that our housing regulations allow for the concept of private and public partnerships in being able to build facilities and the private sector. there are constraints related to the authority. i think it is something that we need to export a situation so it makes sense. >> we love our parks. gotta take care of our employees. we are out of housing. >> that is a subject for perhaps some hearing time. >> thank you. >> i should've in my introduction commented on your
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people. in 2003, we took our children and toured the country and went to 17 national parks. the people were exceptional. the park rangers, park personnel, we have wonderful people and i think a lot of them are mission driven. they were clearly proud of where they were. they were proud of the mission and i hope you will convey to them to the people of the park service the admiration, thanks, that this committee is proud to. >> we have 18,000 employees that are absolutely mission driven. >> wouldn't see all of them but we saw quite a few of them on the trip. >> we have senator hirono. senator? >> mr. chairman, i think you and i are the only ones on the subcommittee who have this
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plaque on our. >> it is the best deal in america. >> there are some benefits to getting more mature, you see? mr. burns, thank you so much. you're shining a light on our national parks. i watched a documentary and it made everybody aware of the importance of our national parks so your presence on this panel is really welcome. my hollow -- mahalo as they say in hawaii. have a number of questions for mr. bench. while the covid pandemic has
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significant impact on the national park service that will take some time to recover from, another crisis facing our national parks is climate change. they published a document providing guidance to park managers on planning for climate change. it provides examples of all across the country are planning for those impacts including at hawaii volcanoes national park. they found ways to establish populations of rare and endangered plant species to increase their ability to persist as climate conditions change. as they work to incorporate planning and caring of the subsequent projects to adjust to climate change, what kind of resources will be necessary to ensure that those efforts will happen? >> thank you, senator. we are in the perpetuity business.
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i think it is fair to say that our parks are influenced and are changing in terms of the resources, are charged of the -- are the result of the changing climate. we understand that being able to forecast and understand the impacts, and do what we can on the resiliency side and also be able to protect the resources are our priority. we spent a significant amount of time and energy looking particularly at coastal parks in terms of vulnerability. we want to expand that information and research to every park. every park has that information to be able to use in making good decisions related to management decisions in environmental protection. >> do you need additional
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resources to continue this? if you say yes we can put in -- we can look for funding or other changes we need to make. >> thank you, senator. it is eight priority and a pillar to the current administration. i think as a priority of resources made available as a result of the administrations priority. in terms of additional money we need today that we don't have, i am not in a position. at income with that. i will be happy to provide it. >> usually the need outweighs the resources provided. they are using a reservation system to ensure a safe visitor experience for viewing the sunrise from the room of the volcano, something i have also done. many during the plandemic try to use reservation systems to
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manage the flow of visitors into the park. i am wondering: this is something they may not also refer to or think you did, are there things like plan like a ranger campaign that you encourage parks continue pursuing these new systems beyond the pandemic in order to decrease overcrowding and pressure on resources? >> thank you, senator. i think the short enter -- answer is yes. there's plenty of opportunity beyond the pandemic. when it comes to managing visitors and congestion management, our ultimate goal is to provide a quality visitor experience and make sure we are doing a good job in protecting resources for future generations. any action we take in managing people is really measured
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against those two principles. for example, do we have too many people that the quality of experience is compromised in a particular area? or are resources being damaged as a result of too many people? the management actions we can or do take very greatly based on the individual circumstances. it could range from proactively encouraging visitors to visit less crowded areas through trip planning. that would provide similar experiences all the way to implementing sophisticated time entry systems. typically, we go through a comprehensive planning process at the park level that involves pretty robust decision-making's before he make them in the long term. 6 >> thank you. i hope these are not made in a top-down process. thank you. >> before recognizing senator lee, i hope and believe that online, watching us this morning
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is our member emeritus who lives in the shadow of the great smoky mountains national park. he told me he would tune in this morning. one of the real authors of the great american outdoors act and i just want to acknowledge these senator and his contribution to the work we're are doing here today. senator lee? >> as you know, and zion national park operates a fleet of shuttles to the ark. as as a result, these are limited to 30% capacity. 14 people at a time and this is something that has dramatically decreased the number of people who can travel at any given time. zion national park is entering into a busy season. local communities, especially at this state city of springdale,
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is one that relies on the shuttle system to moderate traffic and parking within the town. when we look at the fact that airline passengers have been sitting shoulder to shoulder for hours at a time on flights for many months, i wonder why it is that passengers wearing masks could not in a short shuttle ride one in which they can open the windows, why is that they should have to operate at 30% capacity? can the park service update it social distancing guidance on this point? >> park service policy is guided by the department interior policy as well as ondcp. it is framed by cdc recommendations. the answer to this question is
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it is a dynamic environment and very likely a month from now, it will look different in terms of what those policy look like today than a month from now. we are framed by the policies of the department. >> i understand and i appreciate that the administration has reiterated their commitment to the science. what science would indicate that it is safe to flight shoulder to shoulder for hours at a time but not ride shoulder to shoulder equally masked in both circumstances before 10-15 minute bus ride? what is the distinction between those? >> senator, i don't think i am the right person from a scientific set -- standpoint to answer your question. >> one of the reasons this worries me is that were entering the is a season. this monday will be a particularly popular weekend. is there any chance you could
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make that adjustment prior to memorial day? >> if the policy guidance changes between now and memorial as it relates to omb or the department, we will evaluate that and taper it accordingly. >> thank you. the drought that western states have been experiencing is impacting the water levels at at lake powell. in fact, it has gotten so low that it has left both the ramps unusable, cutting off access to concession customers and to dry storage patrons. meanwhile, the bullfrog state line will need temporary extensions. i certainly want to thank and commend the local park officials to address the issue. as we look ahead, how do you
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think we can better prepare for these situations? >> thank you, senator. glen canyon welcomes 4.4 million visitors annually. we are in the middle of a drought. no one can predict when what will and/or will how severe it is. we are committed to using the most accurate data available to make the best decisions possible. i think there's only -- it borders the state line will be closed to motorized vehicles due to revised projections by the bureau of reclamation. like levels are lowering faster than previously predicted. alternatives remain in place for vehicles. we'll working with them to plan ahead as congestion occurs and as water levels drop. with that question, it is a
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difficult situation. >> is the third -- as the third most visited national, cyan national park, it is important to our state and a fixture of a local tourism economy. it is one that helps support tourism and generate revenue. there are times where park services suck to conduct a capacity study that could end up mandating a reservation system. i want to take this moment to reiterate my strong opposition to any reservation system and request that national park service gives consideration to locally driven alternative solutions that prepare visitors and preserve visitor access and enjoyment. mr. bench, when you commit to collaborating with my office and communities in my state as we help to address these needs? >> absolutely.
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>> thank you. >> senator kelly? >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. burns, great seeing you again, remotely. i would like to begin by thanking you for your impressive and inspiring pbs documentary about the national parks. in it, you covered the history of the grand canyon national park in the state of arizona. it has been 10 years since my last flight into space, but i will never forget the first time i saw the grand canyon from orbit. even from hundreds of miles away, it is impressive and majestic. as impressive as it is when you see it up close. today, there are thousands of uranium mining claims surrounding the park.
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senator sinema and i introduced a production act which would permanently protect the area from uranium mining. we believe the risk of uranium contamination to their water supply, the tourism economy it supports and the travel members there is too great. a recent poll by colorado college found that 77% of arizonans support banning uranium mining near the park. the latest that was recently in some public research. what is your opinion and what do you think causes arizonans and americans to rally to protect our national parks? >> well, it is good to see you too, senator kelly. even if it's virtually. i am reminded of the phrase in ecclesiastes what has been will
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be again, what has been done will be done again. there is nothing new under the sun. one of the principal reasons that president theodore roosevelt set aside 800 thousand plus acres of grand canyon first as a national monument, it would gain national park status several years later was to protected from mining interests. i think what you find is an overwhelming number of americans who support particularly with those existing national parks, the greatest possible protections. protection that we presume they enjoy. i think many americans are surprised to see there are still threats. again, i would retreat back to my democratic analogy that the freedoms that we enjoy require a kind of eternal vigilance. i think it will be important for those of us who advocate for the production of the parks, those
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of us who would want to expand them. senator lee, i was speaking for many years with senator hatch about dinosaur and dead horse state park in utah. achieving some type of park or national status and elevating dinosaur to that level. we are constantly in flux in doing that. part of our relationship to the parks as citizens has to be in the ongoing vigilance on to protect them from as i mentioned before in my testimony, my answer that is the inquisitive interest that are natural to all human beings and to people. there is nothing new under the sun. these uranium claims have been going on for literally more than a century. >> thank you, mr. burns. that vigilance is incredibly important here. i want to thank my senior
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senator for introducing this protection act with me because mining in and around the grand canyon is just a bad idea. the remainder of my time, i want to switch to mr. bench. national parks in arizona need $500 million in repairs and replacements in critical infrastructure. one of these is the drinking water pipeline from the 1960's. when the 12 mile pipeline fails which is rather frequent, the park and its visitors lose water. the national park service will receive substantial funding under the great american outdoors act that was signed into law last year. mr. bench, can you confirm that the park service is moving forward with lance to replace the grand canyon pipeline?
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and do you foresee any roadblocks ahead and getting this pipeline completed? >> thank you senator. short answer yes. we are committed. no, i see no roadblocks. >> thank you. >> it's great to be here. doing something fun and working on it together. i just want to thank the chairman for guiding me to acadia national parks a couple years ago when i had the pleasure of meeting mr. mcdonald and i will bring the first question. like you, my wife has a goal of going to every national park in the country which means it is my goal as well. with all due respect to all the other parks, i am not sure if i've been to a more beautiful park than acadia, as well as yellowstone gets all the ink,
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but glacier national parks, i've been there three times two of america's treasures. as i think about coming out of covid, one of my big concerns is the mental health crisis. as a physician, if i could give america a prescription to work on it, i would say go visit a national park. take a deep breath, go to a national park, it will do more than any medicine or legislation we can write appear. i just want to get america out there and mr. mcdonald, you guys have been so successful. mingling with the government park there as well. as the friends of acadia, i believe it is the first part to use private funds as well. what is the secret to your success? what would you pass on to other nonprofit organizations to work with national parks? >> we have learned so much from our other peers at other parks.
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this is one of the benefits of this alliance. i am pleased by your remarks that you consider them a leader in this regard. there is a long tradition of philanthropy at this park. mr. burns and his film documented how it was one of the first parks crated from private donations. that tradition is incredibly strong. it does come back to relationships, medication, trust, and respect. it's not easy for a federal agency to work outside their comfort zone. but stretching to include partners in your plans, partnering whenever you tackle a major initiative, agreeing on priorities, that collaboration and communication needs to be wired into the future leaders of the park service. we got a terrific superintendent here. there are many doing a great job. they want to communicate and share the work and priorities with the community and parks and to problem solve together. it tends to have the ability to
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just tap into people's desire to give back. the parks provide so much to the american people and organization like ours provides a platform for folks to be able to pay it back. grateful for your interest and support. lee's but us know when you're back in acadia and let me know if i can help with other questions. >> i will go to mr. binge next. the greatest bargain is that it's $80 for a national park pass. mine has expired. i need to get another one. how do people get a national park pass? >> they can go to the national park website and follow the link to the past. >> the national website for the parks as well. we have anything special for veterans yet? >> for veterans, yes. >> it is free. >> free?
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what a great bargain. i think i want to go to mr. associate next -- mr socia. this will be the most busiest summer we will ever have. people that have never tasted the outdoors are ready to go. the fishing equipment is sold out at all the stores. it looks like it'll will be a great summer. how are you all doing for employees and i am guessing you are getting challenge for people to work? what is people people -- what is keeping people from working for you this summer? >> is a very tight labor market right now, without question. we are no doubt leveraging h2 b's nj once and international workers because there is a real need for it. we are offering incentives that we have not offered in the past in order to retain workers.
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and i say retain as well as recruit. we believe we are ready. we have some great partnerships out there. yellowstone in particular which is a great superintendent to partner with >> looks like i'm out of time so i wheel back. thank you for being here. >> you mention your past as a bargain. this is my senior pass which is $80 for life. this i think is the greatest deal in america right here. >> that is correct. >> used to be a ridiculous $10 [laughter] >> that's when i purchased mine. i think we will have a short second round of questions you mention something in your testimony that went by very quickly but i think is important. it is time to review the 1998 act that governs how concessions
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work. for example, we learned through experience that if a concessionaire bids for whatever the services, past performance doesn't matter under the regulations. the root agree it is time to review the regulations in terms of the current reality of park operations? >> i do. we have spent two years between ourselves and the national park service to progress it further down the line to have it replaced and never make it out of the reading room. we have had conversations with the national park service with how we can progressive forward if there are any changes that need to be made. >> i think that is something we will follow-up up on this year. mr. binge, this is too long a question for hearing like this.
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i would appreciate it if the department could supply to this committee for the record, current plans and operational procedures for the implementation of the great american outdoors act. how are the decisions made in terms of allocation of funds to various parks? how are decisions made in regards to land and water conservation funds? i think that would be a useful update for the committee given the fact that we are approaching a year since the bill was passed. can you work with your colleagues at the department to make that available? >> i will, senator. >> thank you very much. the other thing, i hope that the department will work to further online access. if there is anything we learned in the pandemic it is the importance of an online presence in terms of park passes, guides,
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information, real-time information, you mentioned congestion information. i think there is some progress to be made in terms of the digital footprint of the national park service. i hope that is on the agenda as well. >> it is one of the priorities we are working on. we are proud that we recently rolled out our first mobile app which is a step in the right direction. >> yes sir, thank you. mr. mcdonald, in terms of organizations like friends of acadia, what about advisory committees which are a different animal. are they a useful part of the process? >> i think they are. any opportunity to provide a forum for local communities, local officials, to have a say and questions and to have a healthy exchange on issues
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affecting the park. having said that, i know the administration of the board here , you nominate someone for a term. the paperwork they have the file. that can be a little frustrating. the concept of a local advisory committee is very sound and strengthens that trust and communication between the park and the surrounding communities. >> i also just want to add on the great american outdoors act. there is a lot going on and i want to credit the park service for including the inter-communications. they are working night and day to implement. it is a very big list and i pray she ate being kept in the loop as those decisions are being made and ruled out. >> mr. burns, i want to thank you again for joining us and the work you do to introduce many
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americans but people around the world to this wonderful asset. i hope you will keep in touch with this committee as ideas occur to you that you believe could be helpful. i think the other important contribution you made was that the parks have not been without controversy. many of them were born in controversy. yet today, many of those communities are where controversies existed can't imagine life that the park. has that been your experience? >> very much so. i would like to stay in touch and offer what advice the committee would find useful. you are exactly right. too often, we presume that these good things were born out of good things, but it's often detention of what to do with the land guard that nature looks at a stand of beautiful forests and things on the feet.
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it sees a beautiful river and things a dam. it looks at a canyon, senator kelly, and thinks mineral rights. all of that is legitimate and an important part of the growth of our country, but some of it has to be saved as president roosevelt had suggested for our posterity. i also want to commend senator marshall for bring up the idea of bento health. let's member that the very first park service director himself suffered from some mental illness in which only the parks and their soothing nature had some way of coming this inner turmoil. he was absent for a long time. his assistant often took over. just a decade after yellowstone was created, there was a debate if we should continue this. many senators suggested we don't. there should be in the nation he said, hundred million or a
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hundred 50 million park like this is a great breeding place for our national lungs. a great breeding place for our national lungs. nearly a century and a half later of 330 million people now emerging from a lockdown and restrictions, the terrible suffering and anxiety that accompanied that, we need a place for our lungs to be exercise. you only find that in one place. that is in our national parks and national parks system. that is what they do and i am very grateful to the committee for asking me to come this morning to offer thoughts about the historical perspective of how incredibly democratic this institution is. >> thank you very much, mr. burns. >> mr. burns, your documentaries helped bring to light the beauty
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of so many of our parks when visitors come to montana and visit our great parks, often times they look at a yellowstone and glacier type of itinerary. as the chairman pointed out earlier, we have congestion issues in our parks and have to find ways to release those pressures. one of those ideas perhaps it is to encourage visitors to think of our lesser-known parks when they think of their itineraries. my question is how can we use your tools and knowledge to drive visitation to these lesser-known parks? for example, in montana we had a hearing there it couple years ago or other battlefields. >> senator, this is a wonderful question and really at the heart of it, i am grateful for the chance to try and answer it. i've spent my entire professional life working in public broadcasting. i've always seen a kind of
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comparison to our federal system and to the national park system and what we try to do in public broadcasting. we have created a lot of educational materials that have accompanied them and even though it has now been out for a dozen years, it nonetheless is in active site and we worked through the pbs learning media to continue to educate. we would be more than happy to go back to the park service and work in concert with your committee to try and coordinate that information. we need to place a safety valve as well as breathing for our national lungs and a lot of that has to do with intelligent ways of visiting the park. we have all experienced the the large dams at glacier or at yellowstone. i think the wonders of bighorn are incredibly important.
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it would be happy to try and share our materials and understanding in fact, when we finish collecting the thousands of photographs needed to research over a decade, we donated the in top -- entire amount of those archives to the service where they keep their archival headquarters. many of the images they were familiar with and some they were not. we are at your disposal. >> i think it is a lack of awareness sometimes because at the park, you want to get away from it all these hidden gems we have our a chance to get away from it all. it may solve the problem of congestion at the better-known parks. >> the acting director suggested that we have 60 or so national
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parks but we have 420 plus units in the park service. they need a great part -- great deal of attention. not just the celebrated major parks. >> thinking of the backroads of montana. the back roads to these lesser-known parks. the great american outdoors act was passed in the middle of the pandemic. the chairman talked about implementation. can you give me a quick summary. what is the status of implementation and one of the first to get funding from the act? >> i really appreciate that question. i am pleased to tell you that we are doing really well. there 51 major projects funded. we developed a project schedule and particular milestones. when you crosswalk the
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milestones in terms of where we are, we are in -- on target. i don't know the obligation writ today of the top of my head but we are working with yellowstone projects and we got hundred and $26 million and the other half relates to roadwork. many of our projects we complete those in partnership with the highway administration. >> my last question, from my understanding the concessionary rules were held up in the transition to the biden administration and you give me an update on the status as well as the importance of that will? >> the status is that the parks
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service and concessions community is an agreement, i think that needs to move forward. there are some modifications would still like to make what made it into the reading room. it is consistent with our thoughts as well. we do think it is important. it has been 20 years since the regulations have changed and the needs have changed. >> would you have a status update from the park service as to one that will will and -- one that will be finalized. ? >> they were issued 21 years ago and they are conducting a final review of the rule heard hope to give a final rule later this year. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> i would like to thank our witnesses. for a very informative hearing and for your answers to our
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questions. as i mentioned, we will most likely be following up with a hearing later in the summer. on the issue of congestion and how to deal with that. so we can maximize enjoyment of the parks while at the same time, maximizing access for the american people. without any further questions, the meeting is adjourned. [no audio] [indiscernible]
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♪ >> sees washington journal. we take your calls live on the air and we discussed policy issues that impact you. coming up sunday morning, washington post opinion writer discusses the biden presidency and the republican party. also on the new book, curiosity
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senator from virginia for 30 years has died. he was a former chairman of the senate armed services committee and retired from the senate in 2008. next, we will hear tributes from chuck schumer, mitch mcconnell and virginias current senators and -- tim kaine and mark warner. >> we were greeted this morning by some sad news that our former colleague senator john warner of virginia had passed away at the age of 94. a five term senator. he was a consummate public servant. consensus builder. authority on military affairs. one of the last world war two veteran's to serve in this chamber. he interrupted his law school studies to join the marine corps during the korean war. the kind of stature he had i


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