As you're likely aware, Congress is looking to take an axe to a number of federal programs, ostensibly to trim excess spending and rein in the deficit. And though the 'Super committee' appointed to slash the budget will likely have great difficulty carrying out its cuts, there are still a good deal of vital programs on the cutting board.
And among those discussed, unfortunately, are programs that help preserve the American wilderness for future generations and allow current ones to enjoy it. National parks, resource protection, and historic landmarks are facing steep budget cuts. Austerity-minded conservatives argue that the nation can no longer afford to pay for the upkeep of public lands, or to preserve them from industrial interests.
Jon Nau explains in the Hill why this is such a travesty -- and why we can't afford not to keep conserving our lands:
Conservation, recreation and preservation are a unique component of the federal budget because the funds dedicated to these programs pay for the stewardship of the lands, historic places and wildlife habitat that are owned by all American citizens.So this is what we've come to. The situation has gotten so perverse in Washington, the austerity hawks so out of control, that proponents of national parks must plead the discrete economic benefits of national parks in hopes of saving them from the axe. Despite the fact that they account for such a tiny sliver of the budget already. Of course, Nau's points are sound (read the entire editorial here), and probably poorly understood -- conservation employs a hell of a lot of people, and contributes a hell a lot to the economy for its investment.
Conservation and preservation programs constitute only 1.2 percent of the overall budget. However, these programs are primers for generating exponentially greater nonfederal investments. Natural resources conservation, historic preservation and outdoor recreation contribute more than $1 trillion to our economy each year. This supports millions of American jobs, the overwhelming majority of which are impossible to export abroad. For example, outdoor recreation alone creates nearly 6.5 million jobs for individuals directly employed in the industry.
But it just strikes me as sad that we must make such a case for something so foundational to the nation's spirit -- they're our landmarks, for crying out loud. The day that we have to grovel to save our wilderness areas, our protected natural resources, our Yellowstones and Yosemites and hundreds of beloved lesser-known parks, is a depressing indeed. And yet, that day appears to be dawning.