On February 13, 2020, after several devastating months of record-breaking heat and severe drought that triggered a state of emergency, Australian fire officials finally declared the New South Wales brush fires contained. While torrential rainfall eventually vanquished multiple blazes, the destruction left behind couldn’t be more sobering: 33 deaths, approximately 3,000 homes destroyed or damaged and an estimated 1 billion animals — including kangaroos, koalas and other wildlife — killed in one of the worst catastrophes in history. The most current estimates, as reported by BBC News, reveal that 27.2 million acres of bush, forest and parks across Australia burned to the ground.
As Australians continue to grapple with the aftermath, these tragic brush fires should serve as a wakeup call to the rest of us. After all, the United States is not immune to record-breaking temperatures or devastating droughts, as states like California can attest. And as the debate continues about the severity of the climate change crisis, those of us in parks and recreation remain steadfast in our mission to protect and preserve open space for people to enjoy nature now and, hopefully, well into the future.
As a key pillar, conservation is a priority for our NRPA Public Policy team, which advocates on Capitol Hill for much-needed funding for our industry to continue that work. What’s more, we partner with local park and recreation agencies to offer tools, resources and education in an effort to bring communities closer to nature and increase sustainability through conservation practices within parks.
One issue requiring our immediate attention is the potential threat to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance Fund. In February, the White House announced plans to eliminate this critical funding despite bipartisan support in Congress. Why is this important? The State Assistance Fund, a matching grant program, funds thousands of outdoor recreation projects in local parks. Funding comes directly from offshore oil tax revenue, and thus, not one dime comes from taxpayers. And while we recently garnered permanent funding for LWCF, the celebration was short-lived when the Trump Administration announced that its proposed fiscal year 2021 budget would eliminate funding to the LWCF State Assistance Fund. Here’s the thing…you can make a difference, but you must take action now! Contact your members of Congress and urge them to reject park and recreation funding cuts. We need to make our voices heard on the Hill. Period.
Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz. This national campaign aims to bring awareness and community involvement in the pollinator crisis through local parks and recreation along with other organizations that share this concern. We encourage all local parks to host a pollinator BioBlitz in September. And as an incentive, if your agency signs up to host an event during the month of September, you will be entered to win a $1,000 prize and one of three prize packs to assist with your pollinator habitats or programs.
Earth Day is on April 22, so I encourage you and your community members to do at least one thing that will make a difference in preserving our planet — whether it be carpooling, walking or biking to work, planting a tree, picking up trash at a beach or park, or simply replacing plastic water bottles with reusable ecofriendly alternatives. Remember, a small gesture goes a long way.
Jack Kardys is NRPA's Chair of the Board of Directors.