March 25, 2014 8:21 am -

I spent most of Saturday hiking up and down the impossibly steep trails of Muir Woods National Monument. The expanse of ancient redwood groves and lush pine forests near San Francisco Bay was set aside in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and named in honor of the conservationist chiefly responsible for the existence of our National Parks, John Muir, whose tireless campaigning in support of this continent’s most scenic natural places inaugurated our government’s role in preserving land for the enjoyment of the people, rather than for the exploitation of industry.

The National Park Service is absolutely “America’s Best Idea,” a description originally coined by author Wallace Stegner and borrowed by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan for the title of their masterpiece documentary series. But even though the NPS is our nation’s “best idea,” the parks are definitely not invincible.

Muir Woods National Monument, viewed from the Sun Trail. Photo: Bob Cesca.

Throughout the NPS’s history, the parks have been under almost constant attack. In some cases, such as the damming and flooding of Muir’s beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide water to San Francisco, those attacks have succeeded. Historically speaking, however, funding cuts more than anything else is the weapon of choice against the parks, even though the NPS generates $10 for local economies for every dollar spent to support them.

That’s a spectacular return on investment and yet Congress after Congress has fought to undermine the system, an effort that’s almost always helmed by Republicans in spite of the fact that many parks are set aside to preserve battlefields and to establish patriotic memorials — including the tea party’s favorite government shut-down prop back in October. Speaking of which, during the shut-down the closure of the parks, the government lost $414 million in visitor revenue due to the fiasco.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who was one of the first congressional Republicans to exploit the closing of the World War II Memorial, joined Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in proposing draconian, slash-and-burn spending cuts including a 78 percent reduction in the Interior Department’s budget. A 78 percent cut. That’s damn close to eliminating it. Nearly the entire House GOP voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget last March, which would’ve cut $380 million from the NPS budget — every year.

And so it goes. In 2011, the House Appropriations Committee, with its Republican majority, voted to cut the NPS by $51 million annually. Later in the year, Appropriations voted to cut another $11.5 million from the NPS’s Historic Preservation Fund. In 2011 and 2012, the NPS struggled to handle increased tourism while confronting six percent budget cuts in each of those years. Meanwhile, the first time the GOP played brinksmanship with the debt ceiling in 2011, the result was a $153.4 million annual cut to the NPS via sequestration.

And now there’s another attack against the parks underway, once again spearheaded by the GOP.

Today, the House will vote on H.R. 1459, the “Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act,” also known as “EPIC.” The law would, in effect, reverse the 106-year-old Antiquities Act, which gave the chief executive power to conveniently, expediently and single-handedly establish national monuments like Muir Woods or the Statue of Liberty or, originally, the Grand Canyon… READ MORE

Bob Cesca