Every year, more than 280 million people bring their families to visit our country’s beautiful national parks. We have some of the most outstanding tourist destinations in the world and preserving these precious natural lands has been a top priority for Democrats. That may all change if the Koch brothers have their way, because they are rolling out their latest plot to privatize every piece of America, and their latest target is our national parks.
On Tuesday, an op-ed appeared in The New York Times titled “Let’s Fix Our National Parks, Not Add More.” The piece was written by Reed Watson, the executive director of the Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and assistant, Scott Wilson. In the article Watson tries to disguise himself as a “true conservationist” by claiming that the only way to really protect our national parks is by not acquiring more. He tries to support his asinine argument by talking about the backlog of deferred maintenance the National Park Service has for our current parks. Watson also complains that Obama is hurting our fight for land conservation because he added seven new parks to the national park system; because in their twisted logic, adding conserving more land is bad for land conservation.
“Adding more land to the federal estate is irresponsible when the government is failing to maintain the parks, forests and grazing lands it currently owns. Rather than using the conservation fund to acquire more land, Congress should use the money to help address the deferred maintenance backlog,” the op-ed claims. “True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself.”
Watson and his assistant want readers to believe that they just want to save our national parks, but a little bit of digging proves that’s a total lie. First of all, PERC has a long history of advocating for the privatization of public lands. What would happen if private corporations were able to get their hands on resources that have long been protected from their destruction? Take a look at what has happened to the Everglades and you’ll get the idea. The Everglades were almost destroyed by the sugar industry and now the government is scrambling to save the precious ecosystem.
PERC also has strong ties to Koch Industries and the fossil fuel industry. Reed Watson actually worked for the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and in a similar op-ed in 2009 he claimed that there were too many bills trying to protect wilderness, saying “land management agencies [should] turn a profit” by getting rid of restrictions on timber and energy development.
In March, PERC released a study that claimed the only way to save our national land is to privatize them. The study was “flawed” according to the Center for Western Priorities (CWP). CWP said PERC’s study’s “glaring flaws would suggest that the authors designed a study to specifically support the organization’s ideology, which prioritizes extractive industries, reduces public access through privatization, and ignores the benefits of balanced land management.” They also said PERC failed to take into account billions of dollars spent fighting forest fires, every year and they also didn’t take into account “multiple values provided by national public lands,” besides destroying them by logging and drilling.
When you take a look at who is funding PERC, you understand why they are fighting so hard to destroy our parks. Watson’s research center has accepted huge donations from the Kochs, fossil fuel industry, and Donors Trust. The last group is called the “dark money ATM” of the conservative movement. Donors Trust has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into conservative groups like the Heartland Institute— a climate change denial group– all while allowing its wealthy donors to stay anonymous.
The op-ed also attacks the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a fund supported by members of both parties. It takes money from offshore oil and gas development fees and funds land projects all across the country. The fund has paid for baseball diamonds in every state, other outdoor projects, all while supporting places like the Grand Canyon.
The LWCF is up for re-authorization in September and members of both parties want it to be fully funded, but the Kochs have bought some far-right Republican leaders in Congress who suddenly agree with PERC and want to divert the fund to cover the backlog of maintenance in our current national parks.
The reason this group and the Kochs want to stop the government from buying land, is not because they want to conserve what we currently have, it’s because they want to exploit it and extract every possible cent of value out of it, before leaving it scarred and barren. National parks are protected land that the neither the Kochs or their oil and gas industry friends can get their hands on. Watson mentions Obama adding new parks, but he never once blames the GOP for butchering the National Park Service’s budget. If he were a “true conservationist” he’d go after the Republicans, the lawmakers who are really to blame for the maintenance backlog. The Koch Brothers’ constant plotting to divide up our nation and sell it back to us piecemeal must not come to fruition. We must protect our national parks.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.