Established by President Theodore Roosevelt and implemented by President Woodrow Wilson a little over a 100 years ago through the Organic Act of 1916, our national park system is a jewel of the American people and its government. This system was inspired by the preservationist writings of naturalist John Muir, who believed that these areas of nature should be left untouched by man because this nature was too unique to be destroyed. Muir’s favorite place, Yosemite National Park, is truly one of a kind. Preserving these lands was not easy. Wealthy industrialists, the “robber barons,” could have easily bought these areas for themselves, either to be enjoyed by only a select few, or for multinational corporations to ravish them for natural resources, destroying the environment in the process. Instead, our preservationists and environmentalists prevailed, making these lands open to the public.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit more than 15 national parks, all of which contain spectacular landscapes and unforgettable flora and fauna. Millions of people visit national parks because of their cheap leisure, educational opportunities, stunning biodiversity, and their status as an essential American institution. There are many endangered species that face a chance of extinction if proper action is not taken, such as the black-footed ferret, the Ozark hellbender, and the desert pupfish. Taking away people’s opportunity to enjoy these treasures because of a relatively negligible amount of money (in comparison to total government spending) is irresponsible and neglectful on the part of Donald Trump and his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Even before Trump was elected, our national parks were tremendously underfunded—right now they face an $11.9 billion backlog of repairs that the National Park Service is unable to fix. And under Trump’s proposed budget, the lack of funding for our national parks will only increase. Trump has proposed cutting the budget of the Department of the Interior (the parent agency of the National Park Service) by $1.5 billion. He is supposedly offsetting this reduction by donating his $78,000 salary to the National Park Service.
The repairs that the national parks need to make are critical: roads are deteriorating, visitor centers need to be replaced, and search and rescue workers need to be hired. In the grand scheme of a $4.0 trillion federal budget, the money to repair our national parks shouldn’t be hard to come by.
This isn’t even the worst danger our national parks are facing; climate change poses the biggest threat. Trump, along with Zinke, are doing nothing to mitigate this. Glaciers are receding in Glacier National Park, extreme weather events such as droughts and flash flooding are happening more often in the Everglades, and huge forest fires are ravaging parks in the West such as Yosemite and Rocky Mountain. Despite this, Trump has tweeted that climate change is a Chinese hoax and that he wants to keep coal as a major energy source, already removing Obama-era regulations on the efficiency of coal-burning power plants. In addition, Zinke has admitted that global warming is occurring but has doubted how much of it is man-made. Yet how much climate change is man-made shouldn’t matter because it poses a threat to the environment anyway and deserves a strong response. Destroying the national parks would set an example that our environment is open and ready for exploitation and destruction. Zinke has also been open to the idea of more mining, logging, and other environmentally dangerous activities on national park land.
This is not to say that other national priorities, such as rebuilding American infrastructure or finding out a way to prevent illegal immigration, don’t deserve government resources, but our national parks are often overlooked by lawmakers when it comes to creating a federal budget. Voters do not choose a president based on how many national parks they promise to create, yet the president has an outsize impact on what will happen to the state of our national parks. John Muir was writing about the need to protect our most beautiful natural areas as early as the 1860s, and he left a legacy that future presidents would expand and improve on. Barack Obama designated 33 national monuments in his eight years of office, and hopefully President Trump will follow in his footsteps. Letting national parks sink into a state of disrepair would be a dereliction of duty by Trump and Zinke.