Environmentalists and Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are using the National Park Service's 100th birthday to push their pet projects.
The service is celebrating its centennial with a conglomeration of people forming the park service's arrowhead logo on the National Mall Thursday morning. But, for lawmakers and environmentalists, it's an opportunity to push bills and initiatives otherwise lost in the shuffle.
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, wants to see a bill he authored be taken up on the floor of the lower chamber.
The legislation would reform how the National Park Service tackles its backlog in maintenance projects. By raising the cost of certain passes allowing entrance to the parks, creating a new endowment and raising fees on some park lodging, Bishop hopes to cut into the billions of dollars in delayed projects on park service lands.
"Unfortunately, 100 years after its inception, the National Park Service is encumbered by management failures," Bishop said. "Limited resources are siphoned to new acquisitions while the service's $12 billion maintenance backlog is ignored. For a park to fulfill the measure of its creation, people have to see it. This backlog and management failure limits visits and recreational access.
"We need creative thinking to expand access and improve visitor experience. The House is ready to provide the National Park Service with the right management tools that are crucial in continuing to improve our parks and lands for future generations."
The bill has passed out of Bishop's committee and been discharged from two others and is awaiting action on the floor of the House.
On the other side of the Capitol, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took the time on Thursday to push his message urging action on climate change.
Sanders, whose presidential campaign made environmental issues a big part of his platform, linked to an article in the Guardian warning about the effects the warming of the planet could have on the national parks. Sanders warned failing to act could change America's wild places.
"National Parks turn 100 years old this week, but if we don't combat climate change they won't last much longer," the independent tweeted.
Sanders' allies at the Natural Resources Defense Council had their own, more specific, initiative to push Thursday.
Group President Rhea Suh urged supporters to mobilize to protect Big Cypress National Preserve, lands administered by the National Park Service near Everglades National Park in Florida.
Suh said the 70,000-acre preserve would soon be subject to oil and gas exploration. Suh said 30-ton trucks that send shockwaves into the earth would flatten trees, plants and animal habitats in the preserve.
She urged supporters to write to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to protest the National Park Service's decision to allow the exploration.
"By approving Big Oil's exploration plan, the agency not only failed to uphold its fundamental duty to defend the preserve and its endangered wildlife — it sent a disheartening message that oil industry profits are more important than our nation's most important wild places and tackling climate change," she said.