Zinke calls criticisms of park fee hikes ‘baloney’

Zinke calls criticisms of park fee hikes ‘baloney’
© Greg Nash

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWhy the BLM methane rule works for industry and taxpayers NJ governor signs bill to block offshore drilling Top Interior official key to delaying protection for an endangered species MORE defended his proposal to increase fees at some parks to as much as $70, saying critics do not appreciate what the entrance fees pay for.

Zinke told Fox News’s Shannon Bream late Thursday night that the criticisms from environmentalists and Democrats are “baloney.”

“The greatest bargain in America is $80 for a year-long pass of our public lands,” Zinke said, referring to the Interior Department’s annual pass for visits to all of its fee-charging areas.

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“Now, I face an $11.5 billion backlog of our public lands and our parks. And our parks are being loved to death. Everyone loves our parks,” he continued.

“As a former military, there’s two things we need to fund absolutely: our military and our parks. So come on, America,” Zinke said. “If you think that $80, all year, every park, all the time, by a carload, is too much to ask — I mean, come on.”

The National Park Service last month proposed a new fee structure for some of its parks, including $70 per vehicle for access to 17 of the most popular sites in the 59-park system during their peak seasons.

Zinke’s critics say the new fees would shut out all but the richest park-goers.

They also contrast the fee increases with the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the Park Service’s budget by 12.9 percent, or nearly $400 million, on an annual basis.

“This proposal seems directly contrary to your often-stated goal of improving public access to our public lands,” 11 Democratic senators wrote to Zinke after the agency proposed the new fees.

“We believe that it is especially problematic for your Department to propose fee increases at the same time that the Trump administration is recommending slashing National Park Service funding levels and holding virtual fire-sales on our public resources at below market value.”

The Park Service estimated that the new fee structure would increase agency-wide revenue from entrance fees to $268.5 million annually, from $199.9 million in the 2016 fiscal year.

The agency is taking public comments on the proposed fees through Nov. 23.