Public lands in the western United States should stay under the care of the federal government and shouldn't be transferred to the states, the head of the National Park Service argued Monday.
In a speech to the National Press Club, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said the idea that public lands in the West should be under the care of the states is misguided. While the National Park Service has a $12 billion maintenance backlog, state park systems are even more strapped for cash, he said.
"I have a lot of friends in the National Association of State Park Directors … and many of them are struggling significantly financially," he said. "They have lost a lot of state legislative appropriations as well. I would say the public land estate is being well managed and would continue to be best managed by the federal government."
The idea of the federal government ceding its land holdings to the states is picking up traction after the Republican Party inserted a clause into its platform calling for all federal lands to be given to the states. There were no specifics on how that would be done, and there hasn't been much follow-up since it was adopted.
The federal government owns large swaths of land in western states. It owns more than 60 percent of Alaska, 45 percent of California, 36 percent of Colorado, 61 percent of Idaho, 85 percent of Nevada, 53 percent of Oregon, 48 percent of Wyoming and almost 65 percent of Utah, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Obama administration has overseen the acquisition of 3.66 million acres of new federal land since 2009 with 19 new national monument declarations. It is reportedly considering placing several millions acres of western land under federal protection as national monuments during President Obama's final months in office.
In addition, Congress has designated an additional three areas under federal control during Obama's time in office.
While the National Park Service is strapped for cash, as evidenced by the maintenance backlog, Jarvis said the federal government is mindful of not adding to the problem in acquiring new lands.
"In almost every case, we have minimized our footprint, the actual land or resources we need to take care of," Jarvis said.
He said the National Park Service is actively taking steps to partner with charities and outside philanthropic organizations to raise money to lessen the build-up of unfinished maintenance projects. However, it's up to Congress to appropriate money for the big ones, he said.
"We feel that the basic operation of a national park is the responsibility of appropriators and then philanthropy, it gives us sort of that margin of excellence on top of that," Jarvis said. "They are not replaceable one over another."