National Parks System to Receive $53 Million Grant, Still Faces $400 Million Budget Cut

Funding for small restoration projects comes from government and private partners.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke flew to Colorado recently to announce a $53 million grant to the National Park Service. Congress voted to contribute $20 million, a grant matched by $33 million in private donations from non-profit NPS partners like Yellowstone Forever and the Glacier National Park Conservancy. The grant will be divided among 42 NPS units for high-priority maintenance and infrastructure programs. Roughly $16 million of the federal funding will go towards reducing deferred maintenance.

In other NPS budget news, the current NPS maintenance backlog is $11.3 billion, and the Trump administration’s proposed budget will cut NPS funding by $400 million in fiscal year 2018.  Zinke has publicly supported the proposed budget, including a $1.6 billion decrease for his own department, which manages 75% of our public lands.

In a speech at Rocky Mountain National Park, Zinke, who has not proven to be friendly to public lands and conservation efforts in practice, declared, “No one is more passionate about our public lands than I am. I’m an advocate: never sell, never transfer. But, let’s make sure that our public lands are managed well and the experience in our parks are maintained.”

In his announcement, Zinke noted the shortage of staff as a crucial issue for proper park maintenance, saying “I think we’re too short on the front lines of our park personnel.” Since 2011, park attendance has increased by 17 percent while personnel has decreased by 11 percent due to budgetary restrictions. In a June announcement, Zinke explained that to adjust for the slim new budget, he plans to lay off 4,000 full-time Department of the Interior staff.

Throughout the speech, Zinke highlighted the importance of public and private partnerships in maintaining the park system, stating that he hopes to incentivize private investments with projects like public transportation and wifi. He also stated that the DOI would announce a plan to address the $11.3 billion in deferred maintenance next week.

According to the Denver Post, Zinke’s speech was met with protest by locals who consider the grant to be functionally insignificant. $400,000 was allocated to Rocky Mountain National Park to help restore the Alluvial Fan trail ($200,000 of which was raised by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy), but RMNP alone has $75 million in deferred maintenance.

In addition to the work at Rocky Mountain National Park, the projects slated to receive grant funding include reduction of deferred maintenance on Zion’s Lower and Middle Emerald Pools trails, Mount Rainier’s Wonderland trail, and Grand Teton’s Jenny Lake Visitor Use area. Glacier National Park will receive $120,000 to prevent invasive aquatic species through inspections and Denali will receive $47,600 to support research on long-distance migration birds.

Photo by Maria Thi Mai, BLM.

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