The Koch Brothers Have Declared War On America’s National Parks

This holiday weekend, many Americans will be enjoying the country’s national parks and other public lands. Our national parks are considered by most to be our greatest treasures, holding precious places in trust for Americans to enjoy for as long as this nation exists.

In the June 30 edition of the New York Times, an op-ed by Reed Watson appeared. In it, Watson made a case for not creating any more national parks. He points out that the National Park Service can’t maintain what we already have:

“Throughout the national park system, an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance is eroding the visitor experience and threatening the very resources that the National Park Service was created to protect. Earlier this year, the park service announced that the cost of deferred maintenance had reached $11.5 billion.”

I will concede that Watson has a good point about user’s fees, which he says should be kept by the venue that collected them. But here’s the thing that is not mentioned by Watson or his co-writer, Scott Wilson: they work for the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a “property rights and environmental organization.” PERC is part of the Koch-backed web of political organizations. The Kochs’ big money organizations — including the “ATM of the right,” Donors Trust (pdf) — make significant contributions to PERC. Watson, himself, used to work directly for the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

PERC is a big advocate for the privatization of our public lands and for opening them up to private use. Like drilling. Well, since they have ties to the fossil fuel industry, that’s not a big surprise. Watson wrote another op-ed in 2009 that called for land management agencies to be required to turn a profit. How? By opening our public lands to industry. Like mining and timber and oil.

You might not be familiar with the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), but you should be. The LWCF uses funds which come from oil and gas fees to pay for outdoor projects all over the country. It is now up for renewal, expiring on September 30. It has bipartisan support but — big surprise — some Republicans are holding it up, wanting to divert LWCF funds to cover park maintenance. The LWCF is budget-neutral, by the way. You might contact your Congress people and let them know that you expect them to pass this without a fuss.

PERC has also been involved in trying to give control of the parks to the states or to sell them off completely. They released a study earlier this year that supports the turn-over, with “evidence” that it would benefit the states economically. This “evidence” was widely disseminated by right-wing pundits from talking points written by oil-and-gas PR man, Richard Berman (aka “Dr. Evil”). Turns out the plan really wouldn’t help the states.

The Center for Western Priorities shredded the PERC study (pdf) , saying it had…

“… glaring flaws would suggest that the authors designed a study to specifically support the organization’s ideology, which prioritizes extractive industries, reduces public access through privatization, and ignores the benefits of balanced land management.”

CWP also noted that the states have said that they can’t afford to keep the parks on their own. It could bankrupt many of them. The idea is really not popular in the West, especially when you add the *selling the parks off* part. Oh, and it’s unconstitutional.

With PERC being a Koch-controlled organization, it is obvious that an ideology is behind it. This “No More National Parks” nonsense is driven by oil and gas and its bought-and-paid-for Congress Critters. They want to seize and sell off our national parks. It’s obscene. It’s downright un-American.

Since Congress created the national park system in 1872, there have been over 400 areas brought under its protection. National parks, monuments and reservations cover more than 84 million acres in all 50 states and U.S. territories. These lands are our heritage. They are our heart. What would we be without Yosemite,, Arcadia, Everglades, Bryce Canyon and Big Bend? A poorer nation, that’s what. Can you imagine oil wells in Big Cypress or Aztec Ruins? The Senate has already voted to allow private companies to abuse our public lands: SA838 passed in April. It endangers national forests and wildernesses, some of which are right next to national parks. Drilling in the Grand Canyon, anyone?

I don’t know about you, but if Congress tried to sell off or open to industry my closest national park — Olympic — I would chain my old body to the closest tree and die there, if need be. We cannot allow greed to destroy these precious, sacred places. Stand up and say, No!”

Photo of Fairyland Trailhead, Bryce Canyon by Neil Peart