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Americans Say They’d Accept $62B More In Taxes To Protect Parks

Sunrise bison cross a road near Soda Butte in Yellowstone National Park.
Sunrise bison cross a road near Soda Butte in Yellowstone National Park.

Taxpayers are willing to spend way more than they currently do to fund and protect national parks, according to a recent economic analysis compiled by professors from Harvard and Colorado State University. 

In a peer-reviewed, nationwide survey, respondents said they would accept additional taxes totalling $62 billion to avoid selling off national park lands and preserving places like Yellowstone and Glacier for future generations. 

The analysis valued the entire park system at more than $100 billion, but the U.S. Congress only allocates around $2.5 billion annually to the agency responsible for managing those parks, leading to a massive maintenance backlog. 

“The American public is willing to have their taxes increased by hundreds of dollars to fund national parks,” Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service during the Obama administration, said. 

The public currently pays an estimated one-tenth of one cent in taxes annually to the park service every year, according to Jarvis, who helped co-author a chapter of the report entitled Valuing U.S. National Parks and Programs: America’s Best Investment.

“The question is not whether the American public are willing to put up the money, the question is whether Congress is willing to put up the money,” he said. “We’ve got our values a little mixed up about what’s worth it to put money into.”

Congressionally allocated funds for the National Park Service have remained relatively stagnant for the past two decades, despite acquiring additional park sites and experiencing increased visitation.

Two years ago, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed increasing visitation fees at some national parks to partly address the maintenance backlog, but he eventually abandoned the plan after receiving heavy criticism.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2021 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit KUER 90.1.