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National Parks: Budget Cuts Inspire "Innovation," Concern

Arches National Park

The Trump administration has proposed trimming funding for the nation’s national parks. The administration calls it a “balanced” approach, but others say the spending plan is headed down the wrong path.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told congressional budget-makers this is what a balanced budget looks like.

“It does encourage some innovation,” he said, “encourages us to look at public-private partnerships where we can, particularly our national parks.”

Zinke hinted at how offshore oil revenues could erase the $12 billion maintenance backlog at the national parks, and how it might be smarter to have contractors handling transportation. Earlier in the week, he suggested privatizing more park services, like campgrounds. Overall, the Trump administration proposes 13 percent less funding for the Interior Department, the Park Service's parent agency.

“If enacted it would be the worst budgetary cut for the Park Service since World War II,” said John Garder, who follows the budget for the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association. “To call the cuts draconian would almost be an understatement.”

He said they would mean the growing crowds would have fewer rangers to rely on – thousands fewer. It also would mean shutting down facilities and scaling back programs, like conservation. Joette Langianese, executive director of Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, points out that the parks her group supports employed 125 people full time when there were just half a million visitors a year.

“The visitation has increased by a million people in 15 years. But the staffing levels have stayed the same,” she said. “And, if they cut it more, then that means we’re going to have less staff and we’re going to continue having increasing visitation because people love to come to our national parks.”

Langianese said nonprofits like hers can pick up some of the slack. But they are not in a position to tackle problems like the rotting amphitheater benches at Hovenweep.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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