The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is struggling to maintain failing infrastructure across hundreds of wildlife refuges under a crushing $1.3 billion backlog, E&E News reported.
Roads and paved paths are cracking apart while visitor centers and offices are falling apart from loose roofing falling to leaking pipes and toilets.
“Some of these areas get to a point where we just have to shut them off for public use, because of public safety,” FWS Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan told E&E News.
The maintenance backlog is decades in the making and remains a small part of a $16 billion deferred maintenance backlog facing the Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has said addressing the debt is a top priority.
“The problem of today is simply that the parks are being loved to death,” then-National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth diagnosed the problem 62 years ago. “They are neither equipped nor staffed to protect their irreplaceable resources, nor to take care of their increasing millions of visitors.”
The vast majority of Interior’s debt, $11.6 billion worth, belongs to the National Park Service (NPS). The agency and its massive financial problem tends to overshadow the FWS’s lack of funds, E&E News reports.
The Interior’s financial problems have gotten worse over time as federal appropriations for the department have remained relatively stable, but the amount of land the department is responsible for maintaining has kept increasing. For example, the NPS system grew from 390 to 417 national parks from 2006 to 2017, according to the Property and Environment Resource Center.
The added land and responsibility has spread limited resources over an increasingly vast area, adding to the backlog. The failure of administrations to address the debt has created a situation where deferred maintenance and the problems of infrastructure that follow are now endemic throughout the U.S. park system and public lands.
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