By Richard Campbell
As if the mass resignations of the Advisory Board of the National Parks this past Wednesday over being ignored by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wasn’t enough, as the chaos in Washington ensued over the budget showdown, across the nation National Parks were forced to close. People visiting Boston wishing go to Bunker Hill, and other sites were out of luck. Though Faneuil Hall was closed for renovations in January, and some outside vendors allowed access to Old South, Old State, Old North, Revere House- and the USS Constitution & Museum, the rest of NPS Boston metro area shut their doors. The parks are, by most reports, back open- for now. Perhaps the issues at the National Parks is a small wrinkle next to all the other chaos as the “Washingtoon” (my designation) continues for yet another “showdown.”
It is worth noting that this would be the first time in the history of the National Parks that the Interior Secretary sparked such a rebellion among the advisory board established in 1935, or reached such a low level of trust in the rank and file. It must be understood that even at the highest levels, National Park positions are often voluntary, non-political in nature, and that the dedicated service of park employees is rated highly by the public, regardless of political persuasion. So, after repeatedly trying to obtain a meeting with Mr. Zinke, nine of the twelve advisory members threw their hands up in disgust, and submitted a joint letter of resignation. Sounds dysfunctional to me.
At the center of the controversy is the ongoing war on science, a point the resignation letter makes that was amplified by Alaska Governor Tony Knowles who was one of the nine board members to resign. Knowles said “that the Department of the Interior showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science, the effect of climate change, protections of the ecosystems, education. And it has rescinded NPS regulations of resource stewardship concerning those very things: biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change.” Look, you don’t have to be an environmentalist to believe in the National Park System.
Of course the spokesperson Heather Swift for the Department of Interior claims the resignation is a “political stunt”, deflecting from the fact that Zinke has made several very unpopular moves: tripling of park fees, attempts to privatize camp sites, rolling back of conservation mandates made by updated 2016 NPS NB Oil and Gas Regulations, among other plans for using the National Parks lands as a cash cow. The decision to cut the budget of the national parks should come as no surprise to anyone- the parks routinely get picked on, ironically because they are so efficient. It is not this writer’s opinion that it would be hard to find any department in the United States government that delivers more value than the National Parks- it is a matter of proven fact. The park system is buoyed by a large number of volunteers. To quote the National Parks Conservation Association:
“In 2014, the National Park System received over 292 million recreation visits. Park visitors supported nearly $30 billion in economic activity and nearly 277,000 private-sector jobs. Each federal dollar invested in the National Park Service generates $10 in economic activity, a tremendous return on investment to local economies.”
From the same source, in terms of the Federal budget the National Parks “though the Park Service only employs about 21,000 people, they supervise 221,000 volunteers who give 6.4 million hours of service a year.” The National Parks total budget is 3 billion a year. Clearly, there is no department more efficiently run in the entire United States government. Contact me the next time our defense department ($603 billion a year, or 36% of worldwide defense spending) ever breaks even, let alone delivers a return of ten to one to the American public.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the administration’s desire to cut the already miniscule park service budget is Ryan Zinke’s plan to lift bans on uranium mining on lands that surround Grand Canyon National Park, which reveals a sharp change in direction from the past six administrations. Luckily in 2012 the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Department of Interiors decision to bar uranium mining for the next 20 years. The current administration could attempt to overturn the moratorium which would be environmentally devastating to the Grand Canyon, and the water supply of the Colorado River basin. This is coupled with the general reckless dismantling of the EPA- which polls indicate more than 60% of Americans believe should be maintained and strengthened. You don’t have to be a crunchy granola to want clean drinking water.
People who are not old enough to remember how polluted our nation was in the 1960’s- 70’s and how long it took for the EPA to spearhead the cleaning of our rivers, streams, and Boston harbor in particular, think this kind of thing isn’t a local issue. South Boston, we are surrounded by water, it behooves you to pay attention. Also, Zinke’s plan to build a road through Izembec Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a plan which the previous Interior Department 2013 studies proved would destroy the park’s eco system, is up for consideration. Not only has this park been protected by every presidential administration since Eisenhower, what started as requests for a Japanese salmon fishing company to have access to the closest airport has morphed into 1.4 million-dollar lobbyist scheme claiming to benefit emergency services for a small village of 900 people, who, incidentally have already received over 50 million in state and federal funding to modernize their marine medical transport system and medical facilities in exchange for keeping the park intact. The idea is that this small village tied to commercial fishing interests, has the right to upend the entire Alaskan environment for their benefit at huge expense (30 million) to the American taxpayer. Talk about a road to nowhere. That would be a total of 80 million to placate 900 very selfish people.
Finally, the recent rescinding of two national park’s monument status by the administration, and its budget which cuts the parks by %12 when the park already has a huge backlog of deferred maintenance (12 billion) added to years of budget cuts, (including repairs due to parks in Boston) was the opening salvo in a series of plans to undermine the best national park system in the world. For anyone who doesn’t care about or understand the huge value of the National Parks to our nation, this is all good news, to people with brains, (and I realize they are in short supply in the nation’s capital) it’s pretty bad news.