If the Reagan administration has its way, sharp changes are in store for the US national park system. The White House wants to drastically cut federal funds for new parkland acquisition, allow commercial interests greater freedom within national parks, and open up more areas near parks to mineral and energy development. This can be done, it insists, while maintaining adequate protection for the "jewels" that make up the national park system.
As explained by Interior Secretary James G. Watt in recent congressional testimony, the Reagan philosophy is to "be a good steward of what we have before reaching for additional lands whose national significance may be questionable."
But environmentals question the administration's commitment to national park stewardship, given budget proposals that include a moratorium on state and local grants for recreation and historic preservation as well as an 87 percent cut in federal land acquisition through the land and water conservation fund. They see the proposed termination of the Youth Conservation Corps, which does much of its work in national parks and wilderness areas, as another cause for concern.
"If the administration's proposals are adopted, we believe it is very unlikely that several authorized areas will be completed," said William Lienesch of the National Parks and Conservation Association. Among the examples Mr. Lienesch cited in Capitol Hill testimony were the Appalachian Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Olympic National Park, and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Both the size of the national parklands and the human impact on them have grown tremendously in recent years. Total national park acreage has increased 167 percent since 1970 (much of this in Alaska), and the number of visitors has shot up 76 percent over the same period.