Interior Department Mulls Privatization in National Parks

Last year, Glacier National Park experienced record high attendance. Photo Credit: Wesley Fryer/Flickr

Eric Tegethoff
Public News Service

HELENA, Mont. – National parks in Montana and across the country expect big crowds as Americans celebrate the Fourth of July and summer rolls on afterwards.

But public-lands advocates are concerned about the combination of park maintenance backlogs that now total more than $11 billion – and plans to slash the National Park Service budget by nearly $400 million.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has suggested privatizing campgrounds to help make up the shortfall. But Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, an energy-development watchdog group, says privatizing of government services usually leads to higher costs.

“It is in the interest of the private concessionaire to make as much money as they can,” he says. “And when a lot of people are visiting these parks, they could probably afford to charge a pretty penny.”

National parks, including Glacier National Park, set record highs for attendance last year. Saeger says hiking the costs to visit them will close parks off to some Americans.

The Trump Administration has also suggested opening up public lands to more oil and gas development, to boost national parks’ coffers. Saeger disagrees that this would help.

“It is irresponsible to give free rein to oil and gas companies and special interests to develop these lands for profit, while at the same time making it harder for ordinary Americans to access an important part of our national heritage,” he explains.

Saeger says private companies already own oil and gas leases on millions of acres of public lands. They simply aren’t acting on them because of historically low oil prices. He says the idea that lands in the West are closed off to fossil fuel development is false.

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