Among outdoor lovers, it is a matter of almost reflexive assumption that America should preserve more public lands. Whenever you can spare the forest from the blade, you should, right? Two weeks ago, President Obama unveiled the details of his America’s Great Outdoors initiative, and while the response was generally tepid thanks to that fact that it’s mostly a repackaging of existing programs, there was moderate enthusiasm for its call to double spending on the conservation of land and water, to $900 million.
The Obama administration has also studied adding up to 14 national monuments, and bills have been introduced in Congress to create national parks in Colorado, New York, and Maryland.
But some are questioning both the need and appropriateness of adding new parcels to the federal lands system while the economy continues to limp. And there’s also perhaps the bigger issue of the chronic underfunding of existing parklands. Across the country, illegal ATV use is trashing public lands, but parks and forests are woefully understaffed to patrol. Border parks have become war zones, and many national forests are plagued by marijuana production and must reallocate their staff to law enforcement. The president’s 2012 proposed budget adds $141 million in national parks spending, but cuts $80 million from the Interior Department construction budget, $24 million from the BLM, and $178 million from the Forest Service. Meanwhile, the national park system has a maintenance backlog of $8 billion.
Clearly, stewards of public lands are facing tough choices. What would you choose?