To the Congress of the United States:
I am today submitting to the Congress the Bicentennial Land Heritage Act. This proposal establishes a 10-year national commitment to double America's heritage of national parks, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, urban parks, and historic sites. The Bicentennial Land Heritage Act would authorize and appropriate funds for the acquisition, improvement, rehabilitation, and maintenance of the National Parks System and National Wildlife Refuge System and increase grants to communities to improve park and recreation facilities.
Enactment of my proposal would establish a $1.5 billion program to:
--provide $141 million to be used to acquire lands for parks, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas, and historic sites.
--provide $700 million to develop new and existing parklands and refuges into recreation and conservation resources ready to serve the public.
--provide $459 million for upgrading and increased staffing for the national parks and wildlife refuges systems.
--provide $200 million for grants to cities to upgrade present park areas in disrepair.
This bill also contains a supplemental budget request for appropriations totalling $1.32 billion for fiscal year 1977, $1.30 billion to remain available for obligation until 1986.
The Bicentennial Land Heritage Program will significantly influence the future of the 31-million acre National Park System. The System, with its 287 areas, contains outstanding natural features and historical sites. These areas often suffer from overuse or deficient maintenance, and areas with high recreation potential often lack adequate access roads and visitor facilities. Many of the nationally significant historical and archeological sites are deteriorating from lack of proper protection and suitable resource management planning and execution. The addition of lands to the System, coupled with effective resource management, will increase opportunities for outdoor recreation, as well as insure the protection and perpetuation of these resources for future generations. Their inclusion would also help to alleviate overcrowding problems at areas currently in the System, where sharply accelerated visitation during recent years has seriously impacted park resources.
The Bicentennial Land Heritage Program will also be important to the National Wildlife Refuge System. The 378 National Wildlife Refuges, which encompass 32 million acres, provide habitat for a wide variety of the Nation's fish and wildlife. The Refuge System, like the National Park System, has deteriorated seriously. In the last two decades, the System has doubled in size, and public visitation has quadrupled to 30 million visitors a year. Yet, staffing has not been increased in the last ten years. Many facilities such as roads, buildings, and water management structures have deteriorated for lack of maintenance. Of even more concern is the daily destruction of the Nation's essential wildlife habitat which is being bought, developed, polluted, or otherwise altered.
To assist in improving community parks and recreation facilities the Program would also authorize funds, pursuant to the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, in the amount of $200 million to be available for communities to use in their recreation programs.
As part of the Bicentennial Land Heritage Program, I again urge the Congress to act expeditiously and to enact the proposed Alaska Conservation Act which was first proposed in December 1973 and resubmitted in March 1975. I am disappointed that the 94th Congress has failed to take action on this initiative. My hope is that the Congress will take positive action on this important conservation measure, which would add more than 64 million acres of land to the National Park System and the National Wildlife Refuge System and thus double the size of both of these systems.
The program I now present to the Congress will reaffirm our Nation's commitment to preserve the best of our vast and beautiful country and the wildlife inhabiting it. It will be a sound investment in America which will pay off handsomely by permanently insuring and enriching the natural treasures to be inherited by future generations. All Americans must stand committed to conserve and cherish our incomparable natural heritage-our wildlife, our air, our water resources and our land itself. As our nation begins its third century, we must renew our commitment to save this great natural heritage for the enjoyment of future generations of Americans.
Accordingly, I strongly urge the Congress to enact the proposed "Bicentennial Land Heritage Act of 1976", which establishes a program designed to insure the fulfillment of this national commitment.
GERALD R. FORD
The White House,
August 31, 1976.