On Tuesday the Trump administration revealed their proposed budget for Director Ryan Zinke’s Department of Interior (DOI). According to most conservationists and public land advocates, it’s a nightmare.
“This budget proposes unprecedented reductions,” says Denis P. Galvin, an advisor to the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, and a former director of the National Park Service. “One has to go back to World War II, when the parks were largely shut down, to find comparable reductions.”
In summary, the proposed budget cuts the DOI 12 percent overall, and those cuts will affect everything from the National Park Service to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“The National Park Service will lose an additional 1,242 positions, on top of positions lost in previous years,” says Phil Francis, also of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “These cuts will impact the economies of local communities and will cause reductions in park programs and closure of facilities. There will also be impacts to park resources.”
The Coalition fully expects some parks to close, and people to lose their jobs, as the National Park Service is already facing a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog. “The reductions to park operations, while less than the overall reduction, will still cause great problems,” says Galvin. “That will result in drastically reduced service and facility closures in 2018.”
The Land and Water Conservation Fund also takes a heavy hit in the proposed budget — an 84 percent cut. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was a bipartisan bill passed in 1965 that uses revenue from offshore oil and gas development to boost local projects in America’s parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and trails. Advocates, particularly sportsmen, are outraged.
“On his first day at Interior, Secretary Zinke signed a secretarial order calling for the expansion of public access and hunting and fishing opportunities on U.S. public lands — an action we applauded,” Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, said in a statement. “Today, only weeks later, we are confused by the drastic cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has done more to facilitate public access opportunities to hunt, fish, and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors than any other federal program in history.”
The Wilderness Society is equally up in arms over the administration’s proposed cuts to the Fund. “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the most popular, bipartisan conservation program in the federal budget,” says Alan Rowsome, Senior Director of Government Relations for Lands at The Wilderness Society. “The program is already paid for from offshore oil and gas fees. It has over 50 years of success enhancing visitor experiences at iconic landscapes like the Grand Canyon, to the small urban park providing needed outdoor opportunities for at-risk youth. To nearly eviscerate America’s premier recreational access program is to hurt local communities, sportsmen, and outdoor enthusiasts across the country who recreate in our nation’s natural heritage every day.”
The budget cuts still need to be passed by Congress, and those opposed to them are urging constituents to call their representatives. As Francis puts it: “These cuts certainly won’t make America great again.”