How Does Trump’s Salary Donation Compare to the Needs of our National Parks?
Donald Trump fulfilled a campaign promise not to take a salary in his role as president by donating his first quarter salary, $78,333, to the National Park Service. While the move could help mute some concerns over Trump’s commitment to America’s public lands, it’s also a tiny drop in the bucket relative to the financial needs of the national parks. As the Twitter thread below shows (with pictures!), the current budget shortfall the National Park Service is facing to maintain the parks dwarfs Trump’s donation by several orders of magnitude.
But first, some background. Secretary of the Department of the Interior (which includes the National Park Service) Ryan Zinke accepted an oversized check for the donation from White House press secretary Sean Spicer at a press briefing. He noted the donation will be used to preserve historic national battlefields, and bluntly stated the Service’s need for cash — “We’re about $229 million behind in deferred maintenance on our battlefields alone”. But that figure is only a small slice of the overall deferred maintenance that the parks are grappling with.
Cost estimates of “deferred maintenance” describe the cost of necessary work needed to maintain infrastructure in the parks that is delayed due to a lack of financial resources. This means that aging roads, bridges, visitor centers, trails, and campgrounds visitors depend on go without repair and maintenance. The total for all work needed to clear the deferred maintenance backlog is about $12 billion, or 153,192 times Trump’s donation.
And this problem of deferred maintenance is likely to get worse as the national parks become increasingly popular. Visitation to national parks hit a record high in 2016: 325 million visitors. This broke the previous record set in 2015 (307 million visitors), which was a 14 million increase over 2014. As visitation increases, visitors put greater stress on park infrastructure. More visitors means more cars impacting park roads, more hikers using trails, and more tourists flooding visitor centers.
In this context, Trump’s donation is paltry. A true commitment to preserving our national parks, monuments, and memorials requires increasing the budget available to the National Park Service to fund maintenance. Yet, Trump’s proposed 2018 budget cuts funds to the Department of the Interior by 12%, or $1.5 billion. And this is where Trump’s donation looks less an act of altruism and more a publicity stunt. In the end, Trump’s donation will do little to help meet the financial needs of the parks, and his budget proposal will more than offset his seeming generosity, imposing greater financial stress on a beloved part of our national heritage already struggling to keep up with its growing popularity.
If you want to donate to or take action with the National Parks Conservation Association, which helps advocate for our nation’s national parks, go here.