COMMENTARY: While I’m on board with reducing unneeded government bureaucracy as a general ethos, the 2018 federal budget that the Trump administration just released is beyond problematic. The most glaring slashes would hit agencies and programs that have been incredibly important to New Mexicans, our local economies, and our heritage of respectfully enjoying the outdoors.
I’m a third generation U.S. Navy veteran and a retired National Park Ranger, working in 15+ states and dozens more parks and wilderness areas. I’ve done search and rescue, was an educator, fire fighter, EMT, and law enforcement officer. Knowing what I know, and with all due respect to our commander in chief, this budget has us going in the wrong direction. And fast.
Although the Department of Interior would not fare the worst (estimated 3,200 jobs cut at the EPA!), the 12 percent slash at the already overburdened Interior would likely be felt deeply here in New Mexico. It seems everybody agrees this proposed budget is dead on arrival, but I’m pretty sure President Trump covered this negotiation tactic in one of his books or TV shows: start high.
Deep cuts to already skinny agency budgets will hurt boots-on-the ground management of our public lands by reducing the numbers of rangers, biologists, archeologists, hydrologists, interpreters, and other specialists needed to manage and protect our nation’s natural and cultural heritage. Reductions mean that access, programs and facilities for the public benefit will suffer. We all lose.
Take the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) national monuments, both of which were designated in the last few years and resulted in job creation, new business opportunities, and increased tax revenues that benefit our state. Every dollar invested in management of these new monuments will be multiplied in private and public sector benefits.
Each year, the outdoor recreation economy generates $6.1 billion in New Mexico and supports 68,000 jobs in our state. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich recognize and enable this by championing protection of public lands in our state, which is in stark contrast to Representative Steve Pearce, who has called on the Trump administration to drastically shrink OMDP and kill off fruit-bearing economic opportunities.
Senator Heinrich hit it on the head by saying, “Budgets should reflect our core values.” New Mexicans need Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to continue to listen to us – we value our public lands and have used them for centuries. I urge him to listen to the majority of New Mexicans — and not just Representative Pearce, who is out of sync with our values around protecting public lands and the long-term stewardship of our patrimony (sacred and secular places).
I know Trump’s proposed budget is as much a political statement as anything else. But it’s a good indicator of the burden put on new cabinet secretaries, and the challenge of supporting public lands stewardship with the needed resources is square on your shoulders, Secretary Zinke.
These proposed cuts won’t heal, especially to our Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which faces a decimating gash. LWCF has been a model program in terms of strategically acquiring private inholdings in national parks and forests from willing sellers, greatly improving efficiency in land management and conserving some of the best lands in our country. It’s a promise to future generations and a conservation success story, removed from partisan bickering and scandal. The proposed cuts to LWCF funding specifically should be offensive to us all.
Hardworking New Mexico families depend on jobs that are predicated on properly looking after our public lands. This budget supports exactly the opposite of what Trump’s campaign promised, and exactly the opposite of what Secretary Zinke promised in his confirmation hearing. Public lands belong to all of us, and we deserve to have them protected for our grandkids’ kids. Our public lands make America great right now, not again. They are our continued gift to the future.
Phil Young is a conservative conservationist, and worked for the U.S. National Park Service for 25 years, and the State of New Mexico’s Historic Preservation Division for more than 7 years.