You are here

How Might The National Park System Fare Under A "President Romney"?


With Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, vague on details concerning his plans for reducing the federal deficit and shrinking government, speculation is running heavy, and it's not encouraging for the National Park System.

Though Mr. Romney's website doesn't go into specifics, it does say that when it comes to domestic energy exploration, he supports developing the country's "cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources."

And that's a concern to more than a few folks.

The Center for American Progress last week speculated that a Romney administration would place at least five national parks in danger -- Theodore Roosevelt, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Grand Teton, and Arches -- with its domestic energy plans. Gas and oil development is on the doorstep of Theodore Roosevelt, uranimum interests want more access to the public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon is threatened by a coal strip mine, Grand Teton is bordered by a national forest with significant natural gas resources, and Arches also is surrounded by potential energy resources, the Center noted.

A Romney presidency would no doubt be welcomed by some Western governors and lawmakers who resent federal ownership of large parts of their states and believe the lands should be relinquished to the states.

In Utah, to cite perhaps the most strident example, Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature are demanding that the federal government give to the state by the end of 2014 some 30 million acres of public lands for the state to manage or sell as it saw fit. A similar movement is under way in Arizona, where a November ballot initiative calls for the state to gain "sovereignty over federal public lands in Arizona, including Grand Canyon National Park."

The platform the GOP adopted at last week's national convention calls for much the same, stating that "Congress should reconsider whether parts of the federal government’s enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining, or forestry through private ownership."

At The Wilderness Society, Nada Culver earlier this year voiced her organization's concerns over efforts to rekindle a Sagebrush Rebellion in the West.

"It's hard to believe it could happen," Ms. Culver said of the states' efforts to gain control of federal lands.

While supporters of these efforts have in some areas created a perception that "this is some kind of groundswell of local opinon," she went on, "it's certainly our experience that that's not a groundswell of local opinion and that there's plenty of opinion around all of these states of people who value these lands for what they are and what they represent."

Driving the movements, offered Ms. Culver, is "a small group of people, some of whom are in it because they see a value. There are people who see the short-term benefit to themselves, if you're an oil and gas company that would like to do some tar sands leasing in the Grand Staircase-Escalante (National Monument), which seems to have a host of these draws, I think you see the short-term benefit and you miss the long-term benefit to the community and to the West."

At the same time, the Obama administration has tried to work with Western states to both preserve areas worth preserving while also allowing multiple-use of the federal landscape, she said.

"This administration has bent over backwards to try to look at what local communities want on the federal lands," said Ms. Culver. "They were calling it the Crown Jewels initiative where (Interior Secretary Ken) Salazar reached out to every state in the West, every county commissioner, all the (congressional) delegations, the tribes, asking for input on places that they would like the federal government to protect as wilderness or other legislative areas, and everybody but Utah I think put in a few areas. That was this administration trying to avoid that stigma and trying to say 'we can continue to do this collaboratively' and really trying to overcome that problem. So I think that's not a legitimate fear right now, that any administration is going to come in and try to overrule everybody locally. I think that lesson's been learned."

At the National Parks Conservation Association, David Nimkin said the Utah legislation, although it would allow the federal government to retain control of national parks in the state, could in theory allow energy development right up to the parks' boundaries.

"We look at national parks increasingly as parts of larger landscapes, and even the idea of buffers is even insufficient to contemplate how the parklands fit into larger eco-regions," said Mr. Nimkin, the advocacy group's Southwest regional director. "So the idea that you would have really dramatically alternative uses on public lands immediately adjacent to the national parks is really quite terrifying."

Such possibilities could be in direct conflict with the National Park Service's stated desire to "(P)romote large landscape conservation to support healthy ecosystems and cultural resources."

"If they (the state) could have a freer hand on where you drill, where you mine, where you graze, enabling more off-road use, etc., without having to go through the dreaded NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process or any of that stuff, I think they would feel that they could develop a much higher level of ongoing revenue, not just a one-time benefit from a land sale."

Beyond land use, there are increasing concerns that budget decisions by a Romney administration would hamstring the Park Service, among other federal agencies and programs.

At Bloomberg News, writer Richard Rubin said the Republican's promise to balance the budget would lead to national parks, federal housing programs, and other entitlement programs and federal services being forced to absorb a 25 percent funding cut.

"By putting Social Security off limits to cuts, promising to boost defense spending by as much as much as $150 billion a year, and holding the line on taxes, all other spending would have to take a hit of about 29 percent by 2016, by one estimate. If that were spread across-the-board, it would translate to 8,000 fewer employees to staff and maintain the national parks..." wrote Mr. Rubin.

Until the Romney team makes its intentions better known, concerns over how public lands are managed and funded can't be minimized.


With the “businessmen’s philosophy”, my guess is that Romney would nominate a corrupt “James Watt type” to promote the will of corporations over the long term good of the environment and the Park Service as a whole.

Until the Romney team makes its intentions better known on a lot of fronts, Americans need to be very wary of voting for him. Trouble is, not all Americans are making an effort to learn about him and may well vote without much thought based mainly on TV ad propaganda.

Shen4me: You mean the rediculous "kill children and starve old people" mantra? My guess is that Romney/Ryan would honor both the Parks and put people back to work in reasonable ways that are effective. Time for reason. We've gone to long without it.

Might look back to GHW Bush and his contributions to the environment and received absolutely no credit.

Do the math. Massive tax cuts, mostly at the top end of the brackets, with undisclosed spending cuts excluding or even increasing Defense and supposedly Social Security along with the closure of undisclosed loop holes (mortgage interest, medical deductions anyone?). The discretionary budget (exempting defense) in the Ryan plan is cut about a third. Interior will be cut at least a third as it does not have the lobbyists that Ag and Transportation have.

BTW, don't forget that Yellowstone has been threatened in the past by threats of nearby drilling.

And what has Obama done for the Parks, or environment? About the same as Clinton... who went 8 years doing nothing, and at the last moment, when there were no political consequences, threw us a few bones.

Speculation is a great game to play. One 'should' look at the history of environmental laws and see which party did the most...

NPS maintenance backlogs have existed since I graduated in 1980 and started working for the Parks... neither side has ever addressed these needs.

Perhaps you missed the biographical film at the Republican National Convention in which Romney said that his favorite childhood memories were trips to the National Parks with his mom and dad. There were photos of young Mitt at various park sites.

Look, there would be no change except that more people would have jobs and more money to actually visit a park. And those ugly windfarms and big solar installations that are a blight on the landscape would no longer get an environmental pass from the administration.

The “businessmen’s philosophy” would be to bring industry and environmentalists together to work out sane, economical policies and practices, while balancing environmental challenges. I would imagine the use economic tax breaks to enviornmentally friendly businesses who rise to the challenge. I don't see industry as a cometititor to natural resources, but a steward if properly moviated.

The air surrounding the parks would definitely get worse, as coal is Romney's friend as it brings jobs, and who cares about the air quality as long as you have jobs, right?

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments