JACL asks a lot of the National Park Service (NPS). We ask for surveys, acquisitions, conservation, security, and personal time. Despite a spartan budget, NPS managers and staff have been generous partners in our quest to preserve our history. Looming on the horizon is a major threat that will impede the Park’s ability to work with our community.
In December 2014, the National Park Service authorization to collect fees will expire. The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) allows the federal agency to charge entrance and recreation fees at national parks – those fees total about $300 million. These monies fund repairs, maintenance, wildlife habitat restoration, education materials and services, and law enforcement. NPS has financed over 9,800 projects and services with fee revenues.
Why is FLREA important to JACL and the Japanese American community? Big parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite collect a lot of fees, and a percentage of those fees go to little parks like Minidoka, Tule Lake, and Manzanar. That money helps fund construction, preservation and education programs that help tell our story. With an increasing reluctance in Congress to fund federal programs, efforts to preserve the World War II prisons will be much harder if FLREA is not extended.
There have been deep cuts to the NPS over the past three years, resulting in elimination of visitor programs, reduced visitor center hours, decreased education programs for children, reduced seasonal employees, and a decrease in restoration and conservation programs. Another significant cut will jeopardize the integrity of our national parks and monuments.
JACL needs to advocate for extension of FLREA from the chapter level to the national level. There needs to be NOISE around this issue, or it will not get addressed. There is a movement to extend FLREA for at least one year to allow Congress to consider a longer reauthorization and potential adjustments to the Act. Hearings on FLREA have been held or are in the planning stage in both the House and the Senate.
More than any other community, we have a vested interest in FLREA.
And another thing. I recently attended a meeting of park stakeholders about the plight of NPS funding. I was the only person of color in the room. But because I was in that room, the conversation had to include the need to diversify national parks to include the stories of communities of color. Tour operators acknowledged that communities of color are a market, and that confinement sites are an important niche market. Making noise is not just about Congress. Making noise is also a demonstration to other park groups – park directors, environmentalists, recreationists, park employees, and tour operators — that we count.