President Donald Trump’s budget released Monday recommends extreme staffing cuts of nearly 2,000 National Park Service rangers at a time when national park visitation is at an all-time high.
The president’s budget proposes a drastic 16 percent cut to the Department of the Interior, which houses the National Park Service, and a cut of seven percent to the park service itself. In 2016, the national parks received record visitation rates of nearly 331 million visits. Cuts to park staff could lead to a reduction in services to the public, closed facilities, and heavier workloads for remaining staff.
“The president’s budget proposal once again demonstrates that the administration is actively working to undermine our national parks and the environment on which they depend,” John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations at the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.
“National parks draw millions of visitors every year, and need more resources, not less. Choking off funding for staff who protect our national parks puts our country’s natural, cultural and historical heritage at risk.”
The budget also proposes the creation of a new public lands infrastructure fund, but at the same time almost entirely cuts the Interior Department’s existing — popular and bipartisan — land and water conservation fund (LWCF).
The hits to LWCF impact most land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. But they would be particularly harsh for the National Park Service, leaving it with no money for discretionary State Assistance Grants and a negative balance for new land acquisition.
In the past, the National Park Service has used this funding to expand protections for Civil War battlefields, or to buy private land in holdings within the current boundaries of national parks. For example, in 2016, the National Park Service used LWCF funds to partner with the state of Wyoming to purchase 640-acres of land within the Grand Teton National Park boundaries, thereby avoiding “mega mansions” in the park.
“Our national parks face real and significant challenges that threaten the integrity of the national park system,” according to Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group of retired, current, and former National Park Service employees. “If the President and his Administration sincerely want to address these challenges, they must start by adequately funding them and developing policies that support the mission of the National Park Service.”
Also on Monday, Trump released his infrastructure plan in conjunction with the budget. While the infrastructure plan broadly includes so little federal funding it is being called a fraud, the proposal doesn’t bode well for parks either.
The plan retained a provision included in a leaked draft of the infrastructure plan that would make it easier for oil and gas pipelines to cross through national parks by changing the approval process for pipelines. Rather than requiring approval from Congress, pipeline projects that cross through land owned by the National Park Service would only require approval from the secretary of the interior.
Critics argue that oil and gas pipelines do not belong in national parks due to the risk for explosions, leaks, and spills. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there were 109 gas transmission incidents costing $33,533,895 in 2017 alone.
Beyond leaks and spills, the construction associated with pipelines — which requires companies to essentially clear-cut swaths of land — could change the landscape of some of the country’s most cherished natural areas and wildlife habitat.
Conservation groups have also noted a provision in the infrastructure proposal that calls for the “disposition of federal real property” and suggests the privatization of two National Park Service Units: the George Washington Parkway and the Baltimore Washington Parkway. It would also leave the door open for divesting of other assets. Some are saying it is a slippery slope to more widespread sell-offs of parks and public lands.
“The president’s infrastructure plan would facilitate the privatization of entire national parks, opening the door to an outright sell-off of America’s public lands,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. “At the same time, President Trump and Secretary Zinke want to cut the Interior Department to the bone, slashing the budget by 16 percent. It’s clear Secretary Zinke has no interest in managing our public lands for future generations, just an interest in being a rubber stamp for drilling and mining.”
Jenny Rowland is a senior policy analyst on the Public Lands team at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within CAP.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified John Garder as Josh Gardner. It has been updated to reflect the correct spelling.