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What does a Trump Presidency mean for U.S. National Parks?

nationalparksWith this historic election season over, what does a Trump Presidency mean for the U.S. National Park system?

In 1916 Congress created the National Park Service also known as “America’s Best Idea.” As 2016 comes to a close the National Park system waves goodbye to a successful centennial initiative with pride and visitation up from prior years. There is now concern over how a Trump administration will view parks and Federal lands.

In April of 2016 Berry Bennett, a senior adviser with Trump’s campaign stated, “The United States government owns more real estate than anybody else, more land than anybody else, more energy than anybody else, we can get rid of government buildings we’re not using, we can extract the energy from government lands, we can do all kinds of things to extract value from the assets that we hold.” A statement like this indicates the possibility of selling lands, or exploiting resources within parks in order to settle some of the country’s national debt.

Some people see President elect’s business background to be valuable and that he will recognize with NPS as an asset. “Donald Trump understands tourism and leisure expenditures. He will understand that federal lands and waters can and should be better economic engines,” responded Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition, when contacted by the Traveler.

At the same time, seeing the economic value in the parks could be damaging as well. “I think we can expect another ‘assault’ on the NPS Management Policies with the intent of reducing protection (preservation) and increasing recreation and exploitive uses,” said Bill Wade a member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.

During the campaign both candidates were on record for opposing the sale or transfer of federal lands (an issue restricted to U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands, not the National Park System). Additionally, according to a National Geographic article, Mr. Trump in January 2016 told an interviewer “that he would not reduce the percentage of the federal budget dedicated to maintaining public lands.”

Incoming President Trump on his own does not hold the power to dismantle the Park system, however backed by a republican majority in the House and Senate there could be actions that chip away at the protections afforded to the parks.

For instance, Republicans have wanted to allow mining operations around the Grand Canyon in search of uranium and other valuable substances. In 2011, former GOP presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann said she would consider opening up drilling for oil and gas in the Everglades. In Wyoming, a Republican gubernatorial candidate called for drilling for oil in Yellowstone.

Dwight Pitcaithley, who was chief historian for the Park Service for a decade and now teaches at New Mexico State University, also expressed concern about the new administration looking at the parks as economic engines and managed as such. “Whatever he [Trump] thinks, I think the outlook for the NPS over the next four years is quite dim.”

Looking Forward

With uncertainty on the horizon now is a great time to learn more about the park system! Mr. William Tweed held a 30 year career with the park service and finds himself among dramatic change, on a multi week hike through the John Muir Trail he reflects on his tenure in the parks and wonders about the future. Of course it’s hard to project into the future; but Mr. Tweed skillfully lays out a scenario that is altogether immediate and devastating, a well-articulated argument that would make the most conservative skeptic stand to attention. Uncertain Path: A Search for the Future of National Parks is a dense composite of a 30-year career put to excellent use, as it grapples with a park system in peril.  For the uninitiated, meaning those who appreciate wilderness but may not be familiar with its current political, scientific, or historical discourses, Uncertain Path is essential reading.

What do you think is the future for U.S. National Parks?

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