How Republicans Celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th Anniversary
By Susan Grigsby / Daily Kos
In 2015, the two million annual visitors to California’s Joshua Tree National Park spent almost $97 million in the surrounding communities. Those same visitors created 1,341 job,s which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $128 million, according to an April 21, 2016 statement from the National Park Service. And still, knowing how much his constituents rely on the existence of a National Park within his congressional district, Republican Rep. Paul Cook has done everything within his power to hinder any growth of the Park Service, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in August.
Paul Cook is one of 20 Republican representatives and senators, known as the Anti-Parks Caucus, who actively work to sell off public lands to private parties for exploitation. The American Legislative Council (ALEC) has led the charge in western states, and broken ground for action on a federal level. Most of the members of the anti-parks caucus are members of the tea party, have been challenged by a tea party candidate, or are in uncompetitive districts where they have little to fear from their failure to represent their constituents. As a result:
A Center for American Progress analysis found that between January 2013 and March 2016 members of Congress filed at least 44 bills or amendments that attempted to remove or undercut protections for parks and public lands—making the 114th Congress the most anti-conservation Congress in recent history.
The American people love the National Park Service. According to the Center for American Progress, 83 percent of them want their representatives to support the national parks. A Pew Research survey done last fall showed that the Park Service had favorability ratings second only to the U.S Postal Service among all federal agencies. Its unfavorability rating was the lowest among all agencies, at only 11 percent. Congress meanwhile, was rated 69 percent unfavorable and 27 percent favorable.
Representatives Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) launched the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team that will develop a legislative framework for transferring public lands to local ownership and control.
If successful, this group will make it much easier to allow mining, fracking, cattle grazing, and other private uses of public land. They dress the windows by claiming that the funds collected will provide funding for public education.
Rep. Bishop is the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and, in typical Republican/Orwellian governance, is doing all he can to privatize those resources regardless of what the overwhelming majority of Americans want.
Bishop is also embroiled in controversy in his home state of Utah, where he has unveiled a draft bill that would force the transfer and sale of tens thousands of acres of public land in southeast Utah. A coalition of Native American nations in the area — including the Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni — have criticized Bishop’s proposal for its failure to adequately protect “the living cultural landscape we call Bears Ears.” The coalition is calling on President Obama to use the Antiquities Act to designate a national monument to protect the Bears Ears area and help curtail widespread grave robbing and looting.
Rep. Bishop is now leading the effort to refuse a gift to the National Park Service of over 87,000 acres in Maine’s North Woods, along with a $40 million donation to establish and maintain the land as a National Park.
Roxanne Quimby, a co-founder of the Burt’s Bees product line, established the nonprofit foundation, Elliotsville Plantation, with some of the wealth she earned from the sale of the company. In addition to acquiring land bordering National Parks around the country and donating them to the National Park Service, the Elliotsville Plantation has accumulated more than 87,500 pristine acres of land in northern Maine.
Known as Katahdin Woods & Waters Recreation Area, it provides “fishing, hunting, hiking, snowmobiling, canoeing, mountain biking and spectacular views of Mount Katahdin.”
It is this land, and Quimby’s determination to leave a lasting legacy by donating it to the National Park Service, that has riled up the anti-parks caucus. Long gone are the days when both parties agreed with the general public that our National Parks were a treasure to be shared by all Americans. Today, the GOP appears to want to celebrate the centennial anniversary of this agency—whose holdings are the envy of, and whose administration is the model for park services around the world—by denying the acceptance of Quimby’s offer of the land in Maine’s North Woods.
They have enlisted the support of Maine’s notorious Gov. Paul LePage, whose claims of a lack of local support for the transfer are directly refuted with survey after survey that shows overwhelming support for the donation. He appears to be bewildered by Quimby’s refusal to donate the land to the state he runs.
The foundation has now appealed to President Obama to accept the land as a National Monument. He can do this unilaterally, exercising his executive authority under the Antiquities Act, which allows him to protect natural, historical and cultural areas. And that is where the anti-parks caucus is trying to throw up additional roadblocks—not only to this acquisition but to all acquisitions under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Meanwhile, back in Rep. Paul Cook’s district, Joshua Tree National Park (which contributes so much to the economic well-being of his constituents) was created by the Antiquities Act in 1936 as Joshua Tree National Monument. It became a National Park in 1994 under the California Desert Protection Act.
The people of Maine, who have seen so much economic loss as a result of the closure of their paper mills, would benefit from the infusion of tourist dollars into their local economy. And all Americans would benefit from the protection of those few acres, which our descendants could enjoy for generations to come.