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U.S. Department of Interior disbands committee aimed at privatization of public lands

By: - November 25, 2019 2:34 pm

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The Trump administration this month abruptly ended work by the so-called “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee that aimed to privatize some aspects of the nation’s public lands. 

The committee was formed in 2017 by former Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and was stacked with outdoor recreation industry players, such as billionaire founder of Bass Pro Shops and major Trump campaign donor Johnny Morris, Aramark President Bruce Fears, and an executive from the concessionaire that sued the National Park Service claiming ownership of the trademark for “Yosemite National Park.”

Critics pointed out that many of these Committee advisors would directly stand to benefit from increased public-private partnerships. 

A report by Democracy Forward claims the work done by the Made in America Committee would otherwise be handled by the 80-year-old, congressionally approved National Park System Advisory Board. However, 10 out of that board’s 12 members resigned in protest of former Secretary Zinke’s leadership. 

The Made in America Committee made recommendations regarding National Park campgrounds to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in October; these were met with criticism from the public and environmentalists. 

“Privatizing America’s public campgrounds and jacking up national park fees to appease big-business concessionaires and powerful corporate campaign donors is just the latest egregious attempt to rip public lands out of public hands,” said Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of Western Values Project, a progressive public lands advocacy group and one of the first public interest groups that jumped on the Made in America Committee’s recommendation memo. 

Bernhardt followed up national reports of the Committee’s disbanding with a letter to The Washington Times last week, restating Interior’s and the Trump administration’s commitment to public-private partnerships on public land. 

“National parks and the National Park Service’s programs were built upon partnerships like these, and these shared efforts are examples of their value to stewarding America’s cultural and historical treasures,” Bernhardt wrote. 

Recreation on Interior lands added $2.3 billion in value to Arizona’s GDP last year, according to Interior’s 2018 Economic Report. Meanwhile, mining and energy extraction added $180 million. 

Despite the Made in America Committee being disbanded, Bernhardt wrote in his letter to the Times that the Trump administration is still looking to public-private partnerships to address the Park Service’s crippling $12 billion maintenance backlog. 

“As we look ahead towards the Park Service’s second century, public-private partnerships remain essential to making the visitor experience exceptional and, in the short term, to advancing the President’s vision for a long overdue investment in American infrastructure,” Bernhardt said. 

Arizona’s National Parks have accumulated $500 million in deferred maintenance costs as of last year, making the state one of the most backlogged in the country.

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Parker Shea

Parker Shea joins the Arizona Mirror after recently graduating from Arizona State University, where he was editor-in-chief of State Press Magazine. He hopes to one day have a career reporting on issues related to the environment. He is a daily runner and enjoys exploring the Arizona wilderness.