National Parks for Sale?

A powerful Republican chairman in the House of Representatives just shared with his constituents his desire to begin selling our national parks. Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida was caught on video in a local town meeting. Here is what he said:

"I got attacked in a previous town meeting for not supporting another national park in this country, a 200-mile trailway. And I told the man that we don't need more national parks in this country, we need to actually sell off some of our national parks."

He went on to compare national parks to owning a Cadillac -- nice to have, but something you should sell when times get tight. That's right -- apparently he thinks of the Grand Canyon as a car. Thanks to ThinkProgress, you can watch the whole video.

Rep. Stearns didn't specify which national parks he had in mind. Was he thinking of his home state of Florida? After all, many a land speculator would love to get his hands on a few million acres of The Everglades. And who wouldn't want to get his hands on the right to privatize the Canaveral National Seashore? Or maybe he was thinking of selling off other people's national parks -- the ones in states Rep. Stearns doesn't represent and may never visit.

Unfortunately, Rep. Stearns isn't the only prominent politician who thinks of the conservation legacy of Theodore Roosevelt as just so much surplus property. Some of the current candidates for leader of the free world have also mused about putting America's national heritage on the chopping block, and the House of Representatives has actually passed or considered favorably a series of radical bills in this Congress that amount to an all-out war on the concept of holding public lands in trust for future generations.

Selling off, selling out or just plain giving away our national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, BLM lands and national monuments is now all too common a theme in the House. The Wilderness Society has cataloged some of these legislative efforts in a chilling report "Wilderness Under Siege." In addition to wanting to turn wildlife refuges into oil fields, some in the House are pursuing an agenda that includes substituting the border patrol for forest rangers, giving away the best public lands for sale to developers, and threatening the Grand Canyon watershed with toxic uranium mines.

One hundred years ago, the Congress passed a landmark bill to protect our Eastern watersheds by acquiring public land. It created Glacier National Park and conceived of a national system of such iconic public lands now known as the National Park System. It was a time of big thinking about a big land with a big future, in line with Roosevelt's inspiring statement:

"Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us."

Now we are reduced to "we need to actually sell off some of our national parks" -- a sentiment as remote from the thinking of Roosevelt as the moon is from Miami.

Those who care about protecting our national heritage need to recognize the perilous times in which we live. If our children are to experience the great outdoors tomorrow, we need to fight for it today.

This blog was originally posted on The Wilderness Society blog.