Today, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and First Lady Melania Trump are scheduled to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to promote the ‘Be Best’ campaign and the Obama-era ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to roll back public lands protections at a historic pace, proposed nearly zeroing out funding for a critical parks and public lands fund, stole park entrance fees during the government shutdown, and continues to appoint conflicted, anti-public land nominees to powerful roles within Interior.
“The Trump administration seems to love to visit our public lands and national parks, sending someone from D.C. out West every few months. But, when they’re back in the swamp, the Trump administration is gutting public lands protections, appointing extremist and conflicted agency-heads, and raiding park entrance fee bank accounts,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project.
The trip comes on the heels of a covert move by Bernhardt and the Trump administration in an attempt to privatize national parks and bail out concessionaire business interests. Touting an inflated deferred maintenance backlog, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt pushed for a $12 billion investment to meet parks’ maintenance needs. While the intention seems forthright, it was anything but. Only $1.3 billion of the backlog is considered priority maintenance by the park service and some $389 million would instead go to private concessionaire business interests operating within national parks.
The Trump administration’s supposed interest in restoring, protecting, and maintaining national parks could be partially addressed by supporting full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would assist in covering this ‘deferred maintenance backlog.’ However, for unclear reasons, the administration proposed nearly zeroing out the fund.
The Trump administration’s latest proposed budget also slashes funding for the National Park Service by $494 million and fails to provide any funding to make parks whole after the historic government shutdown, which caused untold, lasting damage to both national parks and local economies.
O’Neill continued, “Secretary Bernhardt is outright ignoring his own and his boss’s abysmal record and turning a blind eye to his own management failures that are plaguing our national parks, waterways, wildlife, and public lands.”
Sec. Bernhardt’s mismanagement of Interior has led to several ethics investigations, major windfalls for industry special interests, and even corrupt decisions benefiting his former lobbying clients. Bernhardt also violated the law when he stole some $10 million in park entrance fees typically used for park maintenance and seasonal hires to keep them open during Trump’s historic government shutdown.