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Outdoors Advocates Condemn Cuts to Public Lands Budget

Conservationists say the budget proposal from President Donald Trump's Interior Secretary hurts the outdoor industry in New Mexico at the worst possible time. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Conservationists say the budget proposal from President Donald Trump's Interior Secretary hurts the outdoor industry in New Mexico at the worst possible time. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
June 12, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. – Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has recommended budget cuts that create unsavory conditions to public lands and parks in New Mexico, according to conservationists.

It begins with an 80 percent reduction to the Land and Water Conservation Fund then goes on to cut $30 million from national parks maintenance.

Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, says these moves directly hinder the recent attendance growth in New Mexico's outdoor recreation areas, hurting the local economy.

"Interior's own research shows there has been an increase in visitation to national parks throughout the American West,” Saeger points out. “They know it's time to make these investments. They know it's time to catch up on the maintenance backlog that the National Park Service is facing in order to accommodate that."

Zinke has said public land management in the U.S. has been dysfunctional for three decades now and he's begun rescinding national monument statuses along with his budgetary recommendations.

Saeger calls these actions "shortsighted" because they hurt access to the outdoors, mostly in favor of increasing development for oil and gas businesses.

Zinke's budget slashing also is being criticized by the National Parks Conservation Association. It says the 6 percent cut to staff actually will translate to 12 percent because of the seasonal, part-time nature of work by rangers and field managers.

This, he says, will result in longer wait times, and reduced quality of services across the public lands that make up one third of New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Saeger says eliminating national monuments so the state can purchase back land is more lucrative for the extractive businesses that pick up property for drilling and mining.

"What's a problem is that this budget is underfunding public access, while at the same time Interior is taking steps outside of that, playing favorites with the oil and gas industry that wants to make a profit off these lands and do it at the expense of people who value it for hunting and fishing and camping," he points out.

Along with devising a new budget, Interior is gathering public comments and conducting a review of national monuments in New Mexico and nationwide.

Bureau of Land Management Resource Advisory Council meetings have been canceled until the national monument review has been completed.

Brett McPherson, Public News Service - NM