Our National Parks are in Peril

Recent moves by the Trump administration are putting our premier national parks in peril. And unfortunately for Montanans, this attack on what has been called “America’s best idea” is being led by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Montanan who self-describes as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.

But if Teddy Roosevelt was alive today he’d undoubtedly be whacking Zinke about the head and shoulders with his swagger stick for attempting to destroy the legacy he so presciently left for future generations. As it is, Teddy is probably rolling over in his grave at Zinke and Trump’s plans to basically hand over national parks, wildlife refuges and coastal waters to none other than the fossil fuel corporations to ravage for private profit.

Growing up next to Glacier National Park, one might think Zinke had some idea of the incredible beauty that led to Glacier being declared a national park. Millions of people from all over the world have flocked to Glacier since its inception and, in recent years, the park has been setting new visitation records every year. With its crystalline waters, majestic peaks, groves of ancient trees and ice-filled glacial basins, Glacier is indeed a jewel to be cherished, respected and preserved for generations yet to come.

Surely Zinke knows that people do not come to Glacier to see oil rigs, breathe toxic emissions, wander through clearcuts or share the narrow park roads with ore trucks. Nor do they go to other national parks for a relaxing dose of industrialized landscapes and waters. Yellowstone was America’s — and the world’s — first national park, and remains a natural treasure that draws millions of visitors to stand in awe of the geothermal wonders, not the controversial cell towers on Mt. Washburn.

Yet, while calling for slashing the budget for national parks by the largest amount in 75 years, President Trump issued an executive order in March requiring Zinke to conduct a review of existing rules and policies on drilling that may “unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.”

Mind you, this pressing concern about causing the oil and gas industry any problems in further exploiting public lands and waters comes at a time when the globe is deluged in so much oil and gas that prices are less than half of what they were only a few years ago. Surely Zinke and Trump understand the simple theory of supply and demand — and that if there was a tremendous demand for more oil and gas, the price would reflect that.

Adding insult to injury, the National Park Service under Zinke’s command has announced it will more than double entrance fees to $70 a car at a number of national parks. While facetiously comparing the cost to enjoy national parks to Disneyland fees, these dubious public servants seem to forget that Disneyland is a private operation while the national parks belong to all Americans. We, not the corporations, own the parks — a simple fact Trump and Zinke seem to have decided to ignore in charging outrageous fees to enjoy what we already own.

The clock is ticking on these Trump era travesties to our irreplaceable publicly owned treasures and, although this administration seems deaf to public input, there is an opportunity for public comment. For the sake of present and future generations, Montanans must speak up loudly to Zinke and Trump that our national parks are not for sale, nor should they be made inaccessible to the public through the implementation of prohibitively expensive entrance fees.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.