I just had the great good fortune to spend two weekends hiking in Yosemite National Park. I’ve spent a lot of time in Yosemite over the years, and I revisited some favorite old trails I hadn’t hiked in a while. But this time I saw them from a different perspective. Instead of the scenery, I saw the people.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s not possible to walk 2,000 feet down the Yosemite Falls Trail right alongside roaring Yosemite Falls, just across the valley from Half Dome, and not notice the scenery.
But it was the rainbow of people that caught my attention. People from all different ethnic groups. People from all over the world. Families. Children. Serious backpackers. Kids in running shoes.
What an extraordinary resource our national parks and monuments are. Not only do people come from all over the world to see them, but, looking at the hundreds (yes hundreds and yes, I did wonder briefly if they were crazy) of people bravely climbing up a steep, rocky, 2,000-vertical-feet, 3-mile-long trail in 90-degree heat to the top of Yosemite Falls (and the families taking the more modest trek up to Dog Lake in Tuolumne Meadows), it’s clear our national parks are destinations for America’s working families. These are average folks. This is an affordable way to spend some time in a beautiful place with the family — not some fancy hunting reserve or golf resort that only the wealthy can afford. Our national parks and monuments really are the people’s parks. As filmmaker Ken Burns titled his 2009 documentary, they’re “America’s Best Idea.”
That’s why I can’t understand why our parks, monuments and public lands — our “best idea” seem to be both under outright attack and eaten away by chronic underfunding — death by a thousand cuts.
There’s Trump’s 2018 budget which proposes cutting funding to the National Park Service by 13 percent and cutting more than 1,200 NPS jobs. This proposed budget, which follows years of underfunding the parks, also adds another $30 million to nearly $11 billion in already deferred maintenance costs.
Then there’s the national monument review ordered by President Trump. The president ordered the Department of the Interior to review more than two decades worth of national monument designations — by Republican and Democratic presidents alike — to look at whether to rescind, modify, or maintain the monument designation — second-guessing the judgment of his predecessors in setting aside for future generations our country’s exceptional cultural and scenic resources.
The public comment period for this strange and unnecessary review closed last week. More than 2.5 million people sent in comments. Only about 650,000 comments have been processed by the Department of the Interior so far, but of those, 98 percent supported maintaining or expanding current national monument boundaries.
That’s right, 98 percent who responded support maintaining or expanding national monuments. Put this together with a recent poll by Colorado College that shows solid majorities of voters in all western states want to keep national monument designations in place; strong majorities approve of the job public land management agencies are doing; and a whopping 94 percent support improving and repairing infrastructure in national parks and other public lands.
The only conclusion I can draw from those numbers — and the numbers of people I saw delighting in Yosemite this month — is we Americans love our parks and public lands; we think we need more of them, not less; and they must be properly taken care of.
You hear that, Washington?
Anne Macquarie blogs about clean energy and climate change in Nevada at nevadanscleanenergy.org.