How the Trump Administration Threatens National Parks

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

National parks and public lands in the United States are, by definition, owned by and for the public interest. The Trump administration would quietly hand over every American's birthright to corporate interests, mostly of extraction of fossil fuels.

The Trump administration wants to privatize part of the nation’s national parks, according to a memo from the Interior Department’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee. The memo, prepared by the Subcommittee On Recreation Enhancement Through Reorganization, contains recommendations for the Interior Department. The National Park Service (NPS), a part of the Interior Department, oversees 419 national parks in the U.S.

Dated September 24, the memo recommends that “needed and appropriate commercial services – where customers pay for specific goods and services – should be provided under concessions contracts.” The national park campground system is mainly run by federal employees. According to the memo, it “combines inadequate and outmoded visitor infrastructure and a need for both capital and operating subsidies with appropriated funds.” The plan to privatize national parks should start “in park units with low levels of visitor services,” the memo states.

If the national parks are successfully privatized, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation would be next. Native American lands could be “cooperatively” privatized. 

Trump administration slashes the national parks budget

While Interior Secretary David Bernhardt advocated for a $12 billion investment in the national parks to meet their maintenance needs, only $1.3 billion is considered priority maintenance and around $389 million would go to the private concessionaire corporations that operate within national parks.

The Trump administration’s latest proposed budget cuts funding for the NPS by $494 million and does not provide funding to “make parks whole after the historic government shutdown,” according to the Western Values Project.

The 12 national parks most threatened by the Trump administration’s energy policies

Twelve national parks are the ones most threatened by the Trump administration’s energy policies on public lands, a report by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) reveals. Over 19 million acres of public land, which is an area larger than West Virginia, have been offered for oil and gas leasing since President Trump took office. At the same time, the administration is revising the management plans for over 24 million acres of public land and proposing to decrease conservation protections by 80 percent.

The 12 parks cited in the report are: 

  • Sequoia National Park (California)
  • Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)
  • Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado/Utah)
  • Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)
  • Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
  • Hovenweep National Monument (Utah)
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah)
  • Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

“The number and severity of actions this administration is taking against our public lands is putting our national parks in a situation from which they may never recover,” said Matt Kirby, Director of Energy and Landscape Conservation for the National Parks Conservation Association. “These twelve national parks and all parks across the country deserve better.”

Over 45 of the more than 100 actions by the Trump administration that threaten national parks and public lands directly benefit extractive industries, including oil and gas development. The Trump administration’s drilling policies “are accelerating leasing” in public lands near national parks, the report finds. If immediate action is not taken to counter those policies, the parks “will suffer long-lasting harm to their natural, cultural and economic values.”

The recommended policy solutions

The report recommends four different policy solutions. The first is to improve the lease planning process to ensure that national park landscapes are not harmed by oil and gas development and give the NPS an official role in all leasing decisions affecting national parks.

The second solution is to pass federal legislation protecting landscapes next to the parks. One example of such legislation is the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act, which would withdraw federal lands around the park from new oil and gas development.

Curtailing fossil fuel extraction to mitigate the effects of climate change is the third recommended policy solution. National parks are “ground zero for some of the biggest impacts of climate change,” as the report points out. Fossil fuel extraction is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Curtailing or eliminating fossil fuel extraction on public lands is necessary to reduce emissions.

The fourth, but certainly not least, recommended policy solution is to defend and enhance keystone conservation protections. That would include the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act, which are “all crucial to the protection of America’s national parks,” according to the report. 

What you can do

There is something you can do to make your voice heard concerning national parks. Sign the petition by urging President Trump and the Congress to increase the annual budget for the NPS. Share the petition to help it gain more signatures.