Greenwire's Hiar discusses infrastructure backlog, appropriations challenges facing agency

As the National Park Service marks 100 years of service this year, a new monthslong Greenwire series explores the challenges facing the agency as it launches its second century. On today's The Cutting Edge, Greenwire reporter Corbin Hiar previews upcoming reporting in the series including coverage of appropriations questions facing NPS and infrastructure challenges.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. 2016 marks the National Park Service's centennial, and a new monthslong Greenwire series takes a look at some of the challenges facing the agency as it marks 100 years. Greenwire's Corbin Hiar joins me with a preview at some of the new reporting that we'll see in the series in upcoming weeks. Corbin, thank you for joining me.

Corbin Hiar: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Corbin, this is a series that's been very widely read, and you're working with our colleagues Emily Yehle, Phil Taylor and Scott Streater on this. What is the series exploring?

Corbin Hiar: So the central theme of the series is: Are the parks well-managed? And as a part of that, we've been looking at the structure of the National Park Service in our first story. We've gone on to look at the workforce and how they feel about Park Service management, and then we've also taken a look this week at the accountability for top managers as well.

Monica Trauzzi: And taking a look ahead at next week in our NPS@100 feature, Phil Taylor is digging into NPS appropriations. What are the key questions he's taking a look at?

Corbin Hiar: Well, money from Congress provides about 88 percent of the Park Service's budget, and the reporting that we've done so far suggests that that's just not adequate to the needs of the service, so he's looking at how that impacts visitor services like law enforcement, maintenance and other crucial needs. He's also looking at what can be done to fill that gap. So, you know, can Congress increase the budget? Can philanthropy fill in for that? And the concern here is Congress doesn't really show much appetite for increasing the overall budget, so then you have to look at other agencies that could be cut to supplement the Park Service budget and whether or not that can happen.

Monica Trauzzi: And your next story in the series takes a look at the infrastructure backlog. You traveled to Yellowstone to report on this. What did you find?

Corbin Hiar: Yellowstone is the first national park in the world. It predates the National Park System by 44 years, and as a result, it has an extensive backlog -- the largest in the system of any individual park. So it provided a nice microcosm of the challenges facing the parks system, from big-ticket road repairs to campsite repairs to buildings that need to be fixed, and I found that Yellowstone, like much of the rest of the Park Service, is struggling to deal with those responsibilities.

Monica Trauzzi: Talk a bit about the preservation versus recreation debate that NPS struggles with and how the agency tries to deal with that.

Corbin Hiar: Well, the Park Service, in the Organic Act, which created the parks service on Aug. 25, 1916, was tasked with promoting recreation while preserving the parks in perpetuity for future generations' enjoyment, and that mission has always been sort of in conflict. So the way the Park Service has dealt with it has evolved over the years -- to look back at Yellowstone for a moment, visitors used to be allowed to swim in some of the cooler hot springs. They used to feed the bears because they thought that people would be more entertained by docile animals, even large, scary ones like bears. They've since moved away from that sort of heavy impact on the park and are more focused on the preservation part of the mission. So that means, in some cases, taking out buildings that are no longer necessary and reintroducing species like the wolf to Yellowstone and trying to keep ecosystems more natural.

Monica Trauzzi: It is a fascinating series. You guys are doing some amazing reporting, and I encourage everyone to take a look at what you've done so far, and many stories to come through this summer. Thank you for coming on the show.

Corbin Hiar: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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