COLUMN: Parks need financial support, not oil drilling

The president will request undetermined increases in funds for the National Park Service as well as an increase of $56.5 million for a refuge system maintained by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Bush wanted a boost of $4.9 billion over five years for the Park Service to enhance upkeep in last year's budget. Congress increased financial support for the National Park Service outfit by $91 million in 2001. Officials believe Bush would push Congress for further increases this year.

The wildlife refuge budget sustains 538 wildlife refuges and a variety of wildlife education programs. Bush will ask for 18 percent in extra support above the 2002 budget allotment of $319 million. The 2003 budget year begins Oct. 1.

Last year, the president also sought increases in backing for restoration of the Florida Everglades. Congress allowed $120 million, which is $36 million more than that used in the final Clinton budget.

Even as Bush asks for financial increases for the environmental and NPS programs, he will also press this year for extended drilling for oil and natural gas in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and additional open public areas. Bush and Congress fought over initial Bush labors to open the Gulf of Mexico for offshore drilling.

Legislators were positioned to shut down the president's efforts when the White House decided to trim back the projected region of drilling to one-quarter of the initial area.

The president has advised the Senate, controlled by the Democrats, to discuss his proposed energy plan early and the White House is aggressively fighting to get the 60 votes required to beat a probable filibuster to prevent drilling in the arctic refuge.

The president also fought to allow national monuments to be explored for energy use, but Congress rejected that move.

President Bush will focus on other various new spending plans in his State of the Union address on today and then present his 2003 budget to Congress on Feb. 4.

The National Wildlife Refuge System turns 100 this year. It began as the brainchild of President Theodore Roosevelt, and started with the federal guard of an island off of Florida's east coast so pelicans and other birds could be free to nest away from human hunters.

It has expanded significantly from that time, allowing for about 94 million acres of wildlife habitat safeguarded from most human interruption.

I fully believe that the NPS and other wildlife refuges need as much financial support as possible, and I am happy that the president thinks so too.

Of course, I don't agree with busting into their land and drilling everywhere for oil. That is not right. We should not just give land for protection and then take it away. The United States will lose all kinds of animals if we begin to do that.

Our legislators, with hope, can come up with an energy plan that makes sense. After all, it's their job.

Write to Courtney at sturgeoncourtney@hotmail.com


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