That the National Park Service has a huge backlog of overdue chores is nothing new, but the level of what it calls deferred maintenance—things that have needed fixing for more than a year—grew a whopping $440 million in fiscal year 2015, to almost $12 billion. The growth was nearly half a billion dollars last year, not the total.
“While Congress provided increases this year, the annual bill for maintenance in America’s national parks is still almost twice as much as is appropriated,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
Others were a little blunter than Jarvis.
“A nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog is further proof that the National Park Service does not have the funding and resources it needs to protect America’s favorite places,” said National Parks Conservation Association President Theresa Pierno. “And this comes at a time when record-breaking crowds are visiting our national parks. This is the centennial year of the National Park Service. If Congress doesn’t make our parks a national priority in the federal budget now, then when? While Congress did begin to reverse years of declining funding for our national parks with its latest spending bill, the reality is that years of underfunding have significantly harmed our parks.”
Parks are chronically underfunded for general operations as well as critical maintenance. The Park Service actually lost three percent of its funding between 2005 and 2014—although the budget grew 15 percent in dollars, the bite from inflation was larger. “Annual appropriations, which comprised about 88 percent of total funding on average, declined 8 percent after adjusting for inflation,” reported the Government Accountability Office last December.
The maintenance backlog is approximately four times the Park Service operation budget of $3 billion.
The problem affects nearly every one of the the Service’s properties, but is greatest in the highest profile, most-visited sites. The National Mall in Washington, D.C., has the largest backlog: $808 million. It’s followed by Yellowstone National Park with $606 million, Yosemite with $555 million, and Grand Canyon with $371 million. By comparison, the total annual operation budget for Yellowstone is $34 million and Yosemite’s is $29 million.
Here’s a look at the backlog by state and territory. Delaware is the only state without a backlog.
1. California, $1,769,798,353
2. District of Columbia, $1,301,354,798
3. New York, $927,855,608
4. Wyoming, $842,118,361
5. Virginia, $816,357,202