SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who nearly closed a third of California's parks this summer to save money and vetoed a pair of park-protection bills over the weekend, is being honored later this month by a national group -- for defending public lands in the state.
Schwarzenegger will be honored Oct. 29 with the National Park Trust's Bruce F. Vento Public Service Award in Washington, D.C. He won "for his leadership and innovation in the protection of public lands in California and his lifelong commitment to children's health and to connecting them with the outdoors," according to a statement by the group.
The award is given in connection with an annual fundraiser by the nonprofit group, which focuses on protecting national parkland.
Grace Lee, the National Park Trust's executive director, said in an e-mail that Schwarzenegger was selected late last year, "based on the governor's overall record on conservation." The group later expressed "concerns" to Schwarzenegger about the closure plan, its officials have said.
In naming Schwarzenegger, the organization cited legislation that he signed in 2004 to create the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, which establishes funding to protect 25 million acres, and his achievements on the environment, youth fitness and other issues.
John Laird, a former assemblyman who wrote the Sierra Nevada Conservancy bill, said the governor "has failed miserably in protecting state parks in the last year."
Between the governor's budget deal with lawmakers in July and his vetoes of additional funding, parks were slated for a $14-million hit, but Schwarzenegger last month said he would keep parks open by reducing maintenance and hours of operation.
Aaron McLear, the governor's spokesman, said Schwarzenegger cut many parts of government that he thinks are important, including parks.
He said the governor will continue on his "strong record" of protecting parks.
On Sunday, the governor vetoed bills that would have protected parks from development and ensured that lost parkland would be replaced.
Schwarzenegger said the state needs flexibility to allow parkland to be used for purposes such as green energy projects, or to cut funding in a crisis.
Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, criticized the governor's vetoes and said she was "disappointed" in his award, "given the rocky road that state parks have been riding in the recent months."