President Bush today used Virginia's Shenandoah Valley as a bucolic backdrop to promote a 10-year, $3 billion initiative to bolster the National Park Service.
The proposed public-private investment would include $2.4 billion in federal funds that Bush included in the $2.9 trillion budget he submitted to Congress this week for fiscal 2008.
While his 2008 budget is dominated by a $623 billion funding request for the military, including $141 billion in Pentagon spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush trumpeted the parks initiative as "important" and urged Congress to approve it.
"Our national parks are really one of America's great treasures," he said. "And the fundamental question is, are we going to be wise enough to treat them as such?"
Bush is seeking a $230 million increase over his 2007 budget request so the National Park Service can acquire more land, better maintain its facilities and hire 3,000 more seasonal rangers, among other projects. The proposed funding increase is the largest in the park service's history.
The initiative, tied to the National Park Service's 100th anniversary in 2016, also seeks to encourage private donations with a $1 billion matching federal grant.
"I hope the citizens' groups who are concerned about the parks beat a hasty trail to the Congress and remind the Congress about what we have done, and what we need to do as good stewards of the parks," Bush said at an event attended by first lady Laura Bush, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar.
The budget request also includes about $2 million to rehabilitate scenic overlooks at Shenandoah National Park.
White House spokesman Tony Snow suggested at a news briefing today that the media have understated Bush's commitment to environmental issues.
"This is not new," Snow said of the proposed boost in parks funding. "There's been a lot of misreporting. . . . Perhaps folks have not taken notice of the fact that this is an administration that's been keenly committed both to environmentalism and conservationism from the start."