Our National Park System has been called America’s best idea for good reason. From the battlefields at Gettysburg to the sweeping vistas of Rocky Mountain, our national parks represent our shared American identity and heritage. They provide a place of peace or an opportunity for learning and adventure. And our national parks contribute billions of dollars to our nation’s economy, helping to support communities across the United States.
Yet despite the immense value of this remarkable legacy, President Trump’s Fiscal 2020 budget proposal eviscerates the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a key funding source created decades ago to help protect and enhance our parks and public lands. Simultaneously, the administration proposes drastic changes to the Bureau of Land Management, a companion bureau to the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior whose work is often critical to the protection of parks. These two proposals represent a shameful abdication of protection for our national treasures.
LWCF is financed entirely from leasing fees paid by companies extracting oil and gas from offshore wells. This fund has created an extensive network of public lands for all Americans to enjoy. And it helps to secure and enhance public access, conservation, ecosystem preservation and outdoor recreation infrastructure in every state in America.
In addition, LWCF has successfully supported tens of thousands of parks and outdoor recreation projects benefiting every congressional district across the country and fueling the growing $887 billion dollar annual outdoor recreation economy.
Though LWCF has been permanently reauthorized, the program still needs mandatory, full funding — $900 million per year. Congress can stop the Trump administration’s efforts to deny Americans the use of these funds for their intended purposes by stepping up and permanently funding LWCF, protecting its vital investments for future generations.
Congress must also reject the misguided and ill-conceived proposal to “reorganize” the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM and National Park Service work together to manage America’s public lands, with the NPS helping to ensure that development near national parks is appropriate and in line with the protection of their recreational and economic value. Moving BLM staff out of Washington D.C. will hinder this relationship and benefit industry officials looking to exploit America’s rich natural resources for personal and corporate profit.
A delegation of 10 former and retired NPS employees, current staff and board members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, recently went to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress to express our alarm over this administration’s determination to gut LWCF and reorganize BLM. They must heed these concerns.
Wallace Stegner called America’s National Park System our “best idea” because our parks are “absolutely American, absolutely democratic,” and “they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." In an atmosphere of divided politics and contentious rhetoric, it is more important than ever to protect our national parks and public lands.
Burks spent 39 years as a National Park Service employee, including eight years as the Commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor. She now serves on the Executive Council for the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.