Funding-starved state parks looking for help from voters | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Funding-starved state parks looking for help from voters

Greyson Howard
Tahoe Daily Tribune

TRUCKEE/TAHOE – California State Parks narrowly escaped major closures during last year’s state budget crisis, and supporters are going to the voters for help to ensure the worst doesn’t happen in 2010.

The California State Parks Foundation and other organizations have created the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010, needing more than 430,000 signatures to get it in the November 2010 ballot.

If successful, the act would add $18 to California’s annual vehicle licensing fees, said Pam Armas, California State Park Ranger Association President, raising about $500 million each year for state parks, wildlife, land conservation and ocean conservation projects.

“That may seem like a lot, but we’ve been so horribly under-funded; this will get us to where we need to be,” Armas said, adding that state parks have an approximately $1 billion backlog in un-funded work.

The $500 million would be split 85 percent to state parks and 15 percent to the other conservation efforts, Armas said, likely finding its way to groups like the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and California Tahoe Conservancy, among others.

In return, California residents who paid licensing fees would get free day admission to all state parks, year-round, Armas said.

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“If you go two or three times it pays for itself – state park day use now ranges from $8 to $15,” Armas said.

The effort comes in response to the threat in 2009 to pull $70 million from state parks to help balance California’s eroding budget, which would have closed up to 220 of the state’s 279 parks.

That cut was later reduced to $14.2 million, meaning no full-time closures, but reductions of services and partial closures.

A similar addition to vehicle licensing fees was discussed by lawmakers over the summer, but never gained traction in the capital, so groups like the California State Parks Foundation, Audubon Society of California and the Sierra Club are taking it to the voters, Armas said.

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