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PLAN FOR PARK-CLOSURE PANEL ASSAILED

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The National Parks and Conservation Association, an advocacy group with 475,000 members, has opposed the idea of establishing a commission to decide which national parks should be closed.

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, is among conservatives advancing the idea of cutting back the nation's park system.The parks association "cannot support a commission whose predetermined goal is solely park closures," said Paul C. Pritchard in a three-page letter to Hansen. "If a commission is formed, it should be a body dedicated to reviewing the existing system and identifying additions and potential closures based on the standards of national significance."

Allen Freemyer, an attorney for the House Natural Resources Committee, said, "The basic policy direction is to stop the growth of the national-park system for a little while . . . It's not a matter of whether we're going to close some parks. It's a matter of how we're going to close them."

Hansen, the second-ranking Republican on the Natural Resources Committee, suggested during the last election campaign that Great Basin National Park on the Utah-Nevada border should be reviewed by a closure commission.

"If you have been there once, you don't need to go again," he told the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce.

Hansen last week issued a two-page letter the need for a closure commission. Pritchard responded to that letter.

"Our national-park system currently faces a crisis which stems from too many parks and insufficient funding," Hansen wrote. "In the first 50 years of the national-park system, Congress designated only about 60 park areas. However, in the last six years alone, Congress established 30 new park areas across the country. While Congress is busy creating new parks, our crown jewels are falling into disrepair."

Hansen said the Park Service has a construction backlog of $6 billion and needs $400 million to $800 million from Congress each year to subsidize its budget.

Pritchard said that last year Hansen opposed a bill that would have generated an extra $45 million to $60 million by increasing the fees paid by park concessionaires. Hansen said higher fees would have driven concessionaires out of business and cost the government more in the long run.