During his confirmation hearing to be named Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke spoke about the privilege of growing up near Glacier Park, one of the brightest jewels in the nation’s public lands treasury and one of the reasons that so many people come to visit Montana. And during his tenure as a member of Congress, he has given lip service to the value of public lands, even if his votes haven’t always aligned with protecting them.
Despite the rhetoric about his belief that people should experience these national treasures, Secretary Zinke announced today that, under his direction, the National Park Service will increase visit fees to seventeen national parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone to $70 per vehicle, more than doubling the current cost of $30 per day in the summer.
While Zinke claims that the effort will raise as much as $70 million to address the maintenance backlog facing the national parks, his press release fails to note that he, just a few months ago, defended massive proposed cuts in the Trump budget, including a $400 million cut to the National Parks budget.
What Secretary Zinke never seems to remember is that the public lands he’s sworn to protect are the property of the American people, who have already paid for their preservation and promotion. Once again, Mr. Zinke is talking out of both sides of his mouth when he simultaneously supports a budget that slashes services to the parks while demanding that taxpayers who use them pay more and more visit these sacred spaces.
The $70 million that Zinke wants to push on park visitors comes one week after he was sued by two Congressman for refusing to demand that coal companies pay their share of royalties to the American taxpayer. As Salon notes, Zinke is restoring a policy that allowed those coal companies to use accounting tricks to rip us all off:
The Interior Department has admitted that overturning that ban will shortchange the taxpayers and benefit coal companies, to the tune of $60 million to 75 million a year. Yet the department is proceeding with reversing that ban.
More than doubling the fees will absolutely keep visitors from the parks, especially the young people who make up the next generation of explorers and wanderers who will help become the defenders of the parks and all they represent. Asking them and families who want to share their cherished places with their children to foot the bill when Secretary Zinke refuses to ask fossil fuel extraction multinationals to pay their fair share of royalties is a skewed set of priorities that so often characterizes the way Zinke makes decisions.
Because those who visit the parks don’t cut massive checks to Super PACs or candidates directly, Secretary Zinke is far more interested in preserving corporate profits than protecting our ability to visit the national parks we all cherish as much as Zinke pretended to during his confirmation.
Senator Tester has already come out strongly against the proposed fee increase. One has to wonder why Congressman Gianforte and Senator Daines haven’t.
You can comment to the National Park Service directly for the next thirty days and let them know just how important access to our parks is. Along the way, you might remind Secretary Zinke that, while he seems to have forgotten us back here in Montana, this is a decision we absolutely won’t forget.