Opinion: National Park Service fee increase a bad idea

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Those intent on taking our public lands are a creative group. Sometimes they put forth bills that would transfer public lands to the states, opening them up to private industry, which could shut the public out. Sometimes big corporations come in and purchase land and water rights, leading to uncertainty about access. And sometimes, economic barriers are put up to keep Americans out.

The proposed Interior Department budget for 2018 put forth by the president is a direct assault on our public lands. The Interior Department’s budget would be cut by 12 percent and have serious implications for the National Park Service. We found out just how serious this week when NPS said they might have to raise entrance fees at 17 parks over 2018. According to a press release by the agency: During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on bike or foot. A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.

For some, $70 a day is just fine. However, that is a prohibitive amount for many Americans. By cutting funding the administration is saying that our public lands and National Parks are only available to those who can afford it. After years of underfunding, the Park Service has been forced into this position. They are already facing a huge maintenance backlog at a time when visitation is up across the entire country. If the proposed 2018 budget goes through, 1,242 full time staff could lose their jobs.

Increased visitation shows just how important these lands are to Americans, but the proposed budget could make these record breaking numbers a thing of the past.

The attack on our public lands comes in many forms. The most recent will cost people their jobs, keep out everyday Americans, and leave many parks struggling to keep their doors open.

Torres is communications director with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. Leahy is deputy director of the nonprofit organization based in Albuquerque.

Editor’s note: According to the National Park Service, the proposed new fee structure would be implemented at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion national parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah national parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.

A public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal will be open from Oct. 24-Nov. 23, 2017, on the National Park Service planning, environment and public comment website: parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates. Written comments can be sent to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

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