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January 22, 2020

Given all the hype surrounding the impeachment trial of President Trump, it’s prudent not to lose sight of the many other issues of concern that should demand our attention and response. Our national parks and public lands, for example, continue to fall victim to the continued attacks that have been levied against them by this administration.

January 2020 is a month of dubious distinction. It marks the end of President Trump’s third year in office and wraps up our third full year without a permanent Director for the National Park Service. This is unprecedented. Despite a series of actings, NPS has been without steady direction and leadership for three years. The agency has suffered without the constancy and vision of a permanent Director. And we see this is a series of harmful actions that have taken place since President Trump took office.

The full number of the actions that have been taken to weaken environmental protections and the vital regulations and laws that protect national parks and public lands are too extensive to enumerate in this post. You can, however, find the full list here. Some of the highlights?

  • Reduced or eliminated protections for ten national monuments including sacred sites in what was Bears Ears National Monument
  • A weakened Endangered Species Act and protections for wildlife and habitats
  • Department of Interior agencies have ended their longstanding practice of denying oil, gas, and mining permits within critical buffer zones near national parks including Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Rocky Mountain.
  • The President’s proposed budget for FY 2020 Department of the Interior funding had massive cuts for everything public-lands related—except for oil and gas. National Parks would have been devastated if the budget had gone forward as proposed.

One of the most insidious threats that continues to predominate the actions and decisions of this administration is their pro-fossil fuels energy policy. President Trump’s administration has often taken aim at specific environmental rules that stand in the way of energy extraction. These are not random decisions or casual acts, but a systematic disassembling of protections which could have major negative implications for national parks and public lands for years to come.

Ultimately, the issue of protecting our irreplaceable natural and cultural resources is not a political battle of liberal vs. conservative. Some of America’s most enduring environmental protections have been shaped by conservative ideas.  Ronald Reagan signed 43 wilderness bills into law, noting that, “this is what we leave our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.” Americans place a high value on our national parks. They are restorative and provide a place to seek tranquility or adventure. They connect us to our history and heritage.

Congress has charged the National Park Service with this stated purpose: “…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

In order to truly fulfill this directive, we need a permanent Director of the NPS who can help protect our national parks and public lands from actions such as those discussed above. We need policies and protections that leave our park system “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” rather than harmed and dismantled. We need to keep fighting for our parks.