Zinke is wrong, we don’t have to choose between park maintenance and conservation

 ·  Kate Hoit, The Hill   ·   Link to Article

National Park Ranger

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing to discuss the National Park Service (NPS) deferred maintenance backlog Tuesday. 

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has repeatedly attempted to frame an “either/or” choice between addressing the NPS maintenance backlog and investing in the Land and Water Conservation Fund — America’s most popular and successful parks program. Yet, his proposal creates a “neither/nor” situation whereby all of America’s parks and public lands would suffer.

The Zinke proposal and the Senate bill that codifies this plan would do nothing to address the maintenance backlog. Our parks would not see a dime unless oil and gas revenues increase significantly — either through skyrocketing oil and gas prices (which this administration cannot control) or through selling out iconic places such as national monuments, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and our sensitive coastlines to the oil and gas industry (which the American public vehemently opposes). In reality, this proposal is nothing short of a ham-fisted attempt to greenwash the administration’s unpopular “energy dominance” agenda.

If Zinke were serious about taking care of our parks, he would put together a budget proposal that doesn’t slash funding by 7 percent, he would provide real — not imaginary or speculative — dollars for park maintenance, and he wouldn’t rely on drilling and mining sensitive public lands and waters. And if he really cared about the American people and opportunities to hunt, fish, hike, camp, and get outdoors on public lands, he wouldn’t be kneecapping the most time-tested parks program of all: The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

For over 50 years, the LWCF has protected our most iconic landscapes and waterways and provided recreation opportunities to all Americans. We have the LWCF to thank for national parks like the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains, as well as national wildlife refuges, national forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, and trails in all 50 states. Taking care of our public lands requires both protecting these outdoor spaces and addressing critical maintenance issues. Communities across the country are counting on Congress to permanently reauthorize the LWCF so that our national parks remain protected as we work to address their critical maintenance needs.

As a veteran, I served our country to play a part in leaving behind a better, stronger America for our children. If Congress fails to reauthorize the LWCF, our children won't have the same opportunities we had to explore the wild places we love. But LWCF means even more than that, to us. It also helps states preserve and protect historic battlefields, which tell the stories of past generations of American troops. If LWCF goes away, so does a piece of our very history, and a chance to pass that on to our children, and future generations of veterans.

During his confirmation hearings, Zinke made a promise to remain steadfast in his previous, passionate support of the LWCF. Since taking office, however, he has betrayed the trust of the American people by proposing to gut the LWCF just as we need an outspoken champion to push for reauthorization. To make matters worse, Zinke is using his empty NPS maintenance backlog proposal as cover for his inaction and outright attacks on the LWCF. Zinke needs to stick to his word and support and fight for the LWCF. 

Protecting the LWCF and tackling the NPS maintenance backlog are two sides of the same coin that Congress must address together with urgency. Taking care of our public spaces absolutely requires securing the LWCF lands that protect and give us access to America’s iconic landscapes and waterways. Americans are counting on our leaders in Washington to permanently reauthorize the LWCF and protect America’s unique outdoor heritage for generations to come.

Kate Hoit is the California State director for the Vet Voice Foundation and a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. She served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.