America's National Parks are sacred, timeless attractions enjoyed by Americans of all political stripes. It's one of the few things that brings us together as Americans.
Since 1916, Americans have admired their beauty, vast vistas, rugged terrain, and picturesque settings. National Parks have undoubtedly inspired writers, filmmakers, creatives, politicians, and other luminaries over the last century. It's impossible to refute their impact on our heritage. Nevertheless, there is a looming budget crisis within the National Park Service (NPS)—which boasts a $3B budget it cannot support.
It's indefensible to see those who have managed this entity—pre-Trump administration— do a shoddy job of getting its fiscal house in order.
Under the Obama administration, they grappled with and ignored this problem. In fact, it can be argued they prolonged the problem. They faced looming backlog issues in 2013 and 2015. This meant a delay in the repairing of trails, roads and visitor centers, among many things. Moreover, this is greatly attributed to "rising construction costs" and further "upkeep growing more expensive."
“From day one, I made it clear that I have zero tolerance for harassment in the workplace, and I directed leadership in the National Park Service to move rapidly to improve accountability and transparency,” Secretary Zinke said. “All employees have the right to work in an environment that is safe and harassment-free. I've removed a number of people who were abusive or acted improperly that other administrations were too afraid to or just turned a blind eye to. Under my leadership we’re going to hold people accountable. We are also fixing the problem of victims being afraid of retaliation or inaction by codifying the right for victims to report abuse to any manager in any location across the Service, and by bringing on an independent, investigative partner.”
In addition to getting federal funding, NPS has a private charity wing called the National Park Foundation, which was chartered by Congress in 1967, with a goal to "safeguard our national heritage, ensuring generations of national park enthusiasts can enjoy the parks we love." Funds from this entity could help offset the backlog accrued over the years but haven't been fully tapped into.
Last month, the Interior Secretary gathered a bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators to push this effort in March—in which 50 percent of the revenue from new energy receipts from oil and gas exploration, among energy efforts, would help offset this backlog.
Similar legislation has been presented in the form of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would use royalties from oil and gas exploration to help with conservation efforts for alleged endangered species. Its provisions are laid out below, from the National Wildlife Federation:
- NO TAX INCREASE — The $1.3 billion will come from existing revenues from energy and mineral fees on federal lands and waters. This is a small portion of the overall revenues from these sources.
- BETTER FOR HUNTERS AND ANGLERS — Currently 80 percent of the funding for our state wildlife agencies comes from sportsmen’s fees such as hunting and fishing licenses and taxes on outdoor gear. Wildlife that are not hunted or fished do not currently have a similar dedicated funding stream.
- A PROVEN MECHANISM — The bill will allocate funds via the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration subaccount of the Pittman-Robertson Act, which was originally passed in 1937.
- LOCAL CONTROL — The funds from this bill will be controlled by state fish and wildlife agencies.
- A HISTORY OF SUCCESS — State fish and wildlife agencies have had great successes in restoring species once on the brink—bald eagles, white-tailed deer, elk, turkey, striped bass, and more.
- HELPING WILDLIFE AT RISK — The money will largely be spent on efforts such as restoring habitats, reintroducing native wildlife, fighting invasive species, and monitoring emerging diseases.
- CONNECTING PEOPLE WITH NATURE — States can use some of the funds for wildlife viewing, nature photography, educational programs, and trail improvements.
This bill, if passed, will shift the responsibilities from the federal government to the states to protect different species by drawing up protection plans to keep species in question off endangered lists. It has yet to move in the House of Representatives.
If bipartisan support can be mustered to use oil and gas royalties and similar revenue to protect species, can't the same logic be applied to reducing the NPS backlog? I believe it can.
The safe, closely-monitored exploration of energy sources—including oil, gas, and yes, renewables—can be done if histrionics are removed from the equation.
Sadly, mounting resistance from preservationist groups masquerading as conservationists will prevent this idea from materializing.
Will revenue from oil and gas royalties fix this backlog issue entirely? That remains to be seen, but it's worth a shot. As we become more energy independent, let's explore all options—both the traditional and non-traditional—to help offset budgetary problems if it doesn't add to the debt.