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Tonko Introduces Cultural Resources Challenge Act

Legislation empowers National Park Service to better protect and preserve America’s cultural resources

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WASHINGTON, DC—Congressman Paul D. Tonko (NY-20) today introduced his Cultural Resources Challenge Act, new legislation that would support and protect the nation’s cultural resources by empowering the National Park Service (NPS) to expand historic preservation efforts.

Tonko’s legislation comes days after the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released their Cultural Resources Challenge for the National Parks Service report, which called upon Congress to better support and fund NPS to restore and protect the nation’s resources.

“Our national parks are powerful, awe-inspiring records of our rich heritage and history,” Congressman Tonko said. “Despite their vital historic and economic benefits, our cultural resources are continuously underfunded and facing dire threats through natural disasters and climate change. My Cultural Resources Challenge Act seeks to address these threats. By addressing staff shortages with the National Park Service, confronting the role of climate change, and improving resiliency and accessibility of cultural resources, my bill will help ensure our cultural resources can continue to connect individuals and communities with the stories of our shared past and inspire future generations.”

“History is at the heart of our national parks, which protect pivotal stories of the Revolutionary War, the Civil Rights Movement, and countless other chapters of the ever-unfolding American narrative. National Park Service rangers work tirelessly to teach park visitors about our country’s diverse, complex cultural resources.” said Alan Spears, Senior Director of Cultural Resources for the National Parks Conservation Association. “But chronic underfunding means fewer talented National Park Service historians and other expert staff are left to tell those stories at parks every year. Funding shortfalls have left our history vulnerable to climate change-related disaster, with flood and fire threatening historic buildings, battlefields, and more. The National Parks Conservation Association proudly supports Congressman Tonko’s Cultural Resources Challenge Act, which would breathe new life into cultural resources management and preservation in our national parks. New funding would help the Park Service recruit more of the best and brightest cultural resources staff, as well as safeguard American history from climate change. This bill would help equip the Park Service to continue to serve as some of America’s greatest storytellers, and protect our American legacy for generations to come.”

“This legislation recognizes the vital importance of safeguarding our shared cultural heritage in U.S. National Parks from the growing threat of accelerating climate change impacts, including coastal flooding, extreme heat and worsening wildfires. The Act would also strengthen the National Park Service’s ability to implement effective science-based strategies to ensure the parks’ irreplaceable cultural resources are more resilient to climate harms by involving local communities and integrating Indigenous Knowledge, expertise and oral history,” said Adam Markham, Deputy Director for Climate, Union of Concerned Scientists.

Tonko has long been a champion in protecting and preserving America’s historic cultural sites and the stories they hold. He authored the National Heritage Areas Act, which became law in 2022 and established clear, transparent standards that make it easier for communities and local partnerships to develop and maintain their Heritage Areas.

The Cultural Resources Challenge Act of 2024 would:

  • Require NPS to enhance cultural resources stewardship including by addressing staff shortages, update NPS guidance on cultural resources research and engagement, advance resource preservation and interpretation, provide technical assistance, and encourage interdisciplinary work and skills sharing.
  • Direct NPS to develop curriculum to provide training to all park managers and staff with responsibilities for managing and preserving cultural resources on management best practices and cultural competency.
  • Establish a competitive NPS grant program focused on the resiliency and accessibility of cultural resources that prioritizes projects which address the role of climate change, involve underrepresented groups in historical preservation, engage with storytelling, and empower future generations to engage in historic preservation.

Bill text is available HERE.

A fact sheet is available HERE.

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