NATIONAL PARKS AT RISK

By Noah Poppe

This year has been a tough time for our national parks. For starters, selling our national parks is much easier now thanks to a House of Representatives rule change. There was also a  change proposed in late January that would remove regulations on drilling in national parks, and continued restrictions of the National Park Service by the Trump administration leave many frustrated.

Utah Representative Rob Bishop led the push at the beginning of January for the rule change in the House of Representatives. Before, any transfer of federal land that generated revenue for the U.S. Treasury had a cost. If lawmakers wanted to give land to a given state, local government, or tribe, the entity receiving the land needed to account for that loss. The new language in the rule no longer requires this, which makes it much easier to give away federal land to states. The problem is that federal land requires a lot of funds for upkeep, especially for fighting wildfires. If the states or local governments owned this land they would be responsible for these costs. These budgetary problems might push these local and state governments to sell some or all the land to avoid or cover these costs. So, state governments taking over federal land could either leave this land unmaintained and underfunded, or citizens could just completely lose access to that land after the state sells it.

Arizona Representative Paul Gosar introduced House Joint Resolution 46, which would repeal regulations that allowed the National Park Service to require operation plans and reclamation deposits from companies drilling in national parks. If this resolution is ratified the NPS can no longer review the operations of these drilling companies which could lead to environmental safety hazards. Without requiring a reclamation deposit this gets worse. A reclamation deposit is a fund for fixing environmental damage, so if companies abandon a project, there is still funding for repairing the damage they might have already done.

On top of these changes, the Trump administration has not helped matters. A gag order has been put on many government organizations, including the NPS. This has led to many alternative social media accounts being created to avoid these official orders. The hiring freeze on many government organizations also hurts the NPS. They rely on many temporary and seasonal employees, so with a hiring freeze they must depend only on their permanent staff.

With these continued attacks on the sanctity of our national parks, it’s easy to see why many are infuriated and worried about the future of our nation. I remain worried myself, and I would like to see more changes that would protect our national parks, rather than put them at risk.

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