EPIC Fights to Protect California State Parks

By
Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Rally at Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz

The Time Has Come For New Park Leadership

The state parks of California are recognized as one of our country’s flagship protected area systems.  The California Department of Parks and Recreation manages the entire California State Parks System, which includes 278 parks and 1.4 million acres.  The California State Park system contains the largest and most diverse natural and cultural heritage holdings of any state agency in the nation. The California park system is an indispensable element in protecting the natural heritage of our landscapes for future generations.

EPIC has been working hard for several years to protect our state parks. These vital ecological and economic resources are already under extreme budget distress, and many of the park units are subject to inappropriate management and illegal activities. By the time Governor Jerry Brown announced the closure of 70 state parks in May as part of a plan to solve the state’s budget crisis, the alarm for the state parks had already sounded for the Environmental Protection Information Center.

EPIC views the proposed closures as a direct assault on the integrity of our public lands, and has taken immediate action to investigate the proposed closures. Last week EPIC filed a Public Records Act Request for the budgets of 41 of the State Parks that are on the chopping block. EPIC’s Conservation Director, Andrew Orahoske, wrote in the letter that “our members rely on the many beneficial resources offered by state parks, and thus these closures have a direct impact on them and our organization.”

In addition to providing a natural sanctuary for spiritual renewal, the economy of the redwood region relies on the state parks to draw tourism to the area. People travel from all over the world to visit our parks, and in doing so they also bring a significant amount of revenue to other businesses in the area. The economic and cultural impacts of park closures could be devastating.

There is evidence that park leadership has done a poor job of coming up with a formula for closures without violating federal and state laws. Of the 70 state parks Governor Brown has proposed to close, at least 16 parks are funded by federal grants, and are contractually bound to remain open in perpetuity.  The leading funding source for national parks in the US is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a federal fund that allocates royalties from offshore drilling and directs them to state and local parks to pay for land acquisition, trail building, and park infrastructure.  The funding is in place as long as the park remains open, or if a park is closed, land of an equal appraised value in a nearby location may be substituted.

Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service in Washington D. C. said recently that “this funding is a grant to the state, like a contract, it is linked directly to the deed of these lands.  It says the state makes a commitment to provide these places for public use in perpetuity.  To not do that is essentially a breach of contract.”  Furthermore, if state parks that are funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund are closed to the public, the entire California State Parks System could become ineligible for future federal park grants.

A separate issue for 11 of the state parks slated for closure is their coastal locations.  According to the head of the California Coastal Commission, state park rangers cannot legally block anyone from the shoreline.  In response to this Coastal Act requirement, the Director of California’s State Parks, Ruth Coleman, has asked if these coastal parks could remain open for only one or two days a week and still satisfy coastal access requirements.  Such ambivalence about the legal obligations of the park system to state residents is indicative of a lack of vision and responsibility on the part of park leadership.

Coleman and other park system administrators are failing in their duties to protect our state parks. It is becoming clear that closing our state parks will do more significant environmental harm than good, and leave the public with nowhere to go.  In addition to cutting us off from some of the last protected natural sanctuaries on the planet, closing our state parks will violate public access laws, breach federal funding contracts, and will cost far more money than it might save.

At EPIC, we believe that these issues demonstrate a fatal flaw in the proposal to close an important percentage of our state parks, and indicate that it is time for a change in park leadership. We insist that Governor Brown take the park closure proposals off the table, and that he bring a breath of fresh air to our state park system by appointing new talent to the park system directorship. To not do so is to further degrade one of our country’s, and the world’s, most important protected area systems. The California State Parks, and the residents of our spectacular state, deserve much more.

In just two days, EPIC has already collected approximately 625 post cards from concerned citizens to send to the Governer asking him to keep our state parks open.

CLICK HERE to send Governor Brown your own personal request to keep our state parks open.