Trump — A conservative conservationist
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 Could it be that President Trump will leave a legacy of conservative conservation? Most environmentalists would call this an oxymoron, but the two could go hand-in-glove by getting the incentives right in both the private and public sectors. 

Consider Trump’s proposed budget for the big land management agencies — the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior including the U.S. Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. His proposal would cut funding from 2017 by $880 million from the Forest Service’s budget of $4.7 billion and $1.4 billion from Interior’s budget of $10.6 billion. 

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These proposed cuts are renewing cries of the “Washington Monument syndrome,” namely the phenomenon that agencies eliminate the most visible services. For example, Sen. Jon Tester (D- Mont.) Turmp’s budget will result in “closing trails, locking up land, and shuttering visitor centers.”

 

Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, told the House Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday that he is not interested in being “in the business of running campgrounds.” He wants to form partnerships with private companies and contract out campground services. 

Where state and federal agencies have done this, the results have been both fiscally and environmentally responsible. In fact nearly half of all Forest Service campgrounds are managed privately. Recreation Resource Management (RRM) manages 175 recreation units in 12 states. A side-by-side comparison of Red Rock State Park operated by Arizona State Parks and Crecent Moon/Red Rock Crossing National Recreation Area leased to RRM by the Forest Service showed that revenues and entrance fees were about the same between the two. Nonetheless, the state park lost $234,005 while the RRM lease netted the company $44,873 after paying a concession fee to the U.S. Treasury of $54,873.

To pay for the $12 billion backlog of maintenance projects in national parks, the administration has proposed using royalties from off-shore oil leases. It wants to increase off-shore drilling, thus providing more energy independence and funding for maintaining our nation’s natural “crown jewels.”

Recreational access to federal lands is another example of a conservative conservation approach. Traditionally, land management agencies have cooperated with private owners whose land provides access to national forests. Under the Obama administration, however, the Forest Service took a more strident approach with forest ranger Alex Sienkiewicz publically advocating “NEVER ask permission to access the National Forest Service.” 

Not surprisingly, landowners who have fought back, bringing these heavy-handed tactics to the attention of Sonny Perdue, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture. As a result the Forest Service under his direction reassigned the ranger to another district in order to “create some separation between Alex . . . and allegations raised concerning access issues.” Returning to cooperation with rather than coercion of private landowners is a valuable step toward a conservative conservation approach.

Conservative conservation is also the administration’s approach to the national monument designations it inherited from President Obama. Trump instructed Zinke to review monuments designated over the past 25 years and decide where they should be rescinded, resized or modified to ensure that they require only the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected” as stated in the Antiquities Act of 1906. After his review of the 1.3 million acre Bears Ears National Monument, Zinke concluded that “there are historic and prehistoric structures or objects” worthy of protection, that can be “identified, segregated, and reasonably separated” with far fewer acres.

Moreover, he calls for giving Native Americans more authority in the management of sites that are culturally and spiritually important to them. Zinke wants to implement a co-management agreement between the Department of Interior and a coalition of tribes. This would go beyond giving tribes consultation rights as proposed by the Obama administration and give them real management authority. Canyon de Chelly National Monument provides a model in which the Navajo Tribal Trust works with the National Park Service. Tribes could decide what is off limits to visitation, charge fees for access and provide guide services if they so desired, thereby reducing demands on the federal bureaucracy. 

If Trump’s next tweet is “I am a conservative conservationist,” I’d reply, “Thanks for the pragmatic approach.”

Terry L. Anderson is a senior fellow at the Stanford University Hoover Institution and former president of the Property and Environment Research Center in Montana. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.