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Non-Private Anniversary

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 16/03/2016 Edward Flattau

The National Park System celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year. But commercial interests seeking access to the System's off-limits wilderness units are not blowing out any candles.
The billionaire Koch brothers and other extractive resource industry types are pushing for privatization of public lands (including most of the national parks). In their view, the transfer of conservation-oriented federal properties to the states or better yet, outright sale to private parties, would be a substantial managerial upgrade.
What is the real reason conservative libertarian industrialists of the Kochs' ilk want a change in the national parks' status? Forget about better management. It is about opportunities for drilling, mining, logging and grazing on previously restricted locales.
Recognizing that the public fears diminished access and thus has little enthusiasm for turning our national parks over to private control, proponents of privatization resort to a diversionary tactic. They assure critics that some of the most cherished parks in the system would remain under federal jurisdiction. Let several places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite retain their national identity.
But for other national parks, the Koch oil barons' rationale is as follows. Since federal employees work for everyone in the country, they lack accountability to any specific faction, and thus are less conscientious than the private employees who work for a well-identified single source.
There is, however, a persuasive reverse logic to this thinking. Working for a constituency that is composed of the entire nation can endow individuals with a greater sense of responsibility and devotion to their job. The term reserved for such people is dedicated public servant, and there are plenty of them in the federal Civil Service.
The privatization proponents' disparagement of the National Park Service's performance is a minority view. Polls consistently find that an overwhelming majority of Americans prefer the parks to remain in the federal government's hands. Moreover, the Park Service enjoys popularity not just for its performance but as a place to work.
If privatization of national parks is stymied as has so far largely been the case in Congress, commercial interests' fallback strategy is to call for a halt to any further expansion, especially at the expense of projected development or private property in general. Privatization devotees contend that no new parks should be established until the sizable maintenance backlogs have been eliminated. It is an unconvincing argument. Overall, the parks' visitor infrastructure is functional if not optimal. These parks' primary purpose is to afford the public a memorable wilderness experience, not turn a profit. If they should experience a deficit, their importance to our national heritage justifies a federal subsidy to keep them viable.
By comparison, if a national park is acquired by private interests and fails to generate a profit, the public's wilderness experience could be reduced as managers turn to development to attract new business.
In any event, our current park system would have enough money for maintenance and enlargement if members of Congress did not fund pet projects by diverting federal oil and gas revenues from their intended conservation use. If anything, the National Park System needs to expand to accommodate population growth.
Need an example to refute the Koch brothers' claim of private interests' land management superiority? How about Cape Cod, Massachusetts? Only the creation of a national seashore in the midst of this spectacularly picturesque peninsula has spared it from being overrun by sprawl.

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