By Holly Fretwell
PERC Research Fellow
The Society for Environmental Journalists held their annual meeting in Missoula, Montana, this fall. As a member on a national parks panel, I had the opportunity to see and hear what environmental reporters are interested in regarding our national parks. There was a lot of romance and socialism in the ideas being discussed, as reiterated by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan in the LA Times. There was less discussion about true reform to enhance the protection of America’s parks.
While many conservationists appeal for more tax dollars to be poured into parks, the harsh truth is that it will not increase stewardship. To care for the American Buffalo and wolves in Yellowstone, the vistas in Yosemite, and the artifacts in Mesa Verde national parks and others like them, we need to take the romance out as so aptly said by James Buchanan.
The management incentives must be changed. More than 80 percent of national park budgets are appropriated by politicians. The majority of those funds are earmarked for political pet projects rather than being available for management priorities. To improve park stewardship the link between park users and managers must be reconnected (See Fretwell’s Who is Minding the Federal Estate for a more thorough analysis). While many environmentalists, journalists, and others, continue to brood over the status quo of park management, many more effective alternatives are being overlooked. Though short in time for presentation, at least one alternative viewpoint was invited to sit at the table this year.