Ominous statements from President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are signaling big changes for public lands in the near future, including national parks. The two politicians have been outspoken proponents of privatizing public lands as a means of easing the pain of looming double-digit budget cuts for the national land management agencies, including the National Park Service (NPS). They are not the first to try and open the door to private sector access, but with both houses of Congress under Republican control, the chances of this happening have never been greater.
Skeptics are viewing privatization as a cynical attempt to open up public lands to greater oil and gas exploration, and increased commercial traffic (from air tours to ATVs to snowmobiles) that has been proven to damage the environment and disturb wildlife.
Beyond the environmental degradation that could result from this move, the potential for higher fees for visitor services could easily put a national park experience out of reach for many. By forfeiting even partial control of public lands our elected officials would accelerate the process of chipping away at the birthright of every American.
Watchdog groups such as the National Park Conservation Association are doing their best to draw attention to the dangers of such a short-sighted shake-up in the status quo, and lobby for additional funding for our cherished national parks. They cite the $11 billion NPS-wide deferred maintenance as a clear example of the failure of Congress to fully fund the parks. Privatization foes are worried that rather than address such challenges, the current administration is using such fiscal strains as a pretext for furthering their agenda.
Decisive action is needed now, lest we witness the demise of the cultural and natural heritage of our country that generations worked hard to protect. Anyone who values our public lands would do well to read the recent article posted by The Guardian online, and a 2005 essay by George Melendez Wright (1904-1936; the first chief of the wildlife division of the NPS), to fully understand what is at stake. At risk is the ability for future generations to have the same experiences in natural places that have transformed, inspired and sustained many of us around the globe. Let your voice be heard.