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Interior Budget Prioritizes National Parks, Energy Development, Reducing Catastrophic Fires

Jackie Yamanaka

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke outlined his priorities reflected in his budget during a conference call with reporters. On that list are issues important in the West – 

–including: money to fix the maintenance backlog at the national parks, combat invasive species, protect water resources and remove dead and dying trees to lessen the catastrophic impact of forest fires.

“We’re going to do the right thing and our policy is going to be based on science, best practices, and not based on fear of lawsuits,” said Zinke.

He said this is an issue for all federal land managers, including for the agency he oversees, the Interior Department.

“I don’t think we need to have the fires we do every year,” said the former Montana Congressman. “So the budget reflects the priority of the Secretary who’s a kid from Montana who’s just tired of the forest fires.”

The National Park Service has a policy that requires a fire management plan for those areas where there’s burnable vegetation. Zinke pointed to the process for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to carry out controlled burns.

Zinke rolled out his proposed $11.7 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2018 that prioritizes dollars to pay for infrastructure on public lands. Zinke said energy development on federal lands would help to pay for the maintenance backlog.  

Among the budget highlights:

  • $766 million to address the $11.3 billion deferred maintenance backlog in the national parks
  • $101 million to deal with invasive species
  • $90 million in mandatory funds to support Land and Water Conservation Fund State Grants

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnershipcriticized the budget for its $1.4 billion decrease to the Department of Interior. The conservation group said the cuts are detrimental to programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund.