President Trump’s conservation legacy: Rebuilding our national parks
Our national parks are in dire need of repairs. After decades of administrations and Congress paying lip service while kicking the can down the road, President Trump took bold action and provided unprecedented support for Congress to fix the aging infrastructure at our national parks and to simultaneously and permanently fund conservation projects. The enactment of the combination of these two proposals would be the most significant conservation legislation in generations.
The Great American Outdoors Act is one of the few pieces of bipartisan legislation that Congress is actively considering. This legislation would provide half of all receipts from energy development on federal lands and waters, up to $1.9 billion per year, for five years to make needed repairs to critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, public lands and at our American Indian schools. Most of those funds, 70 percent, would go to rebuilding our national parks. At the same time, the legislation permanently funds the Lands and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to the tune of $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country.
Support for conservation and outdoor recreation not only bridges a seemingly widening political divide in Congress but is also shared by countless Americans. It is hard to imagine a time in recent history when it has been more important for the American people to have access to the great outdoors, and there is no better place for the American people to do so than at any of our 419 national parks, 568 wildlife refuges, and numerous other public sites across the 500 million acres of public lands we are entrusted to manage.
Last year, the National Park Service welcomed 327 million visitors who generated an economic impact of over $41 billion and supported more than 340,000 jobs. Yet, as the popularity of our national parks increases, there is a cost in managing the public’s assets, and the National Park Service estimates that the current needs of our crumbling park infrastructure to be in excess of $12 billion. Most notably, this only includes repairing what we have, not investing in new ideas or projects. Much of our infrastructure is over a half century old, and more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings are in need of maintenance improvements.
We care for these unparalleled and wondrous landscapes not only for our current enjoyment but also for our children and grandchildren, and we are charged to leave these special places better than we found them. We want future generations to enjoy the splendor and inspiration one feels when visiting Grand Canyon or Yellowstone national parks for the first time. Walking up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and taking in the overwhelming magnificence of its expanse or watching Old Faithful erupt stays with us for a lifetime.
As we work to invest more smartly in what we have, we must also lean forward in expanding outdoor recreation opportunities for the American people. With President Trump’s support, the LWCF leverages public and private dollars to help state and local governments create and improve parks, trails, and other recreation areas in their communities for public enjoyment and outdoor recreation. This allows us to find practical ways to systematically improve access to our public lands and expand recreation opportunities. This program also supports the federal government and other partners’ efforts to improve habitat quality for wildlife, specifically winter range and migration corridors for Western big-game species that migrate across thousands of miles of federal, state, tribal and private lands during their annual journeys. The Department has been a leader in supporting these efforts throughout this administration.
President Trump’s leadership and that of the bipartisan group of senators has placed the most significant legislative accomplishment for conservation stewardship at the threshold of enactment. The sole test now is whether the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives can actually move this commonsense solution forward to be presented to the president for signature. They should get on with it.
David L. Bernhardt serves as the 53rd United States Secretary of the Interior.
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