Could Public Lands Benefit from Private Maintenance?

The Statue of Liberty, Devil's Tower, and Mount St. Helens have new company on the list of National Monument of the United States thanks to President Obama’s executive proclamation last month.

President Obama, utilizing authority granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906, designated Nevada’s Basin and Range, California’s Berryessa Snow Mountain, and Texas’ Waco Mammoth as protected National Monuments. During his time in office he has created or expanded 19 National Monuments. The responsibility of upkeep and maintenance of these national monuments falls predominantly on the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior.

However, as it currently stands, the National Park Service has accumulated a backlog of deferred maintenance costs of $11.5 billion. In other words, the National Park Service has failed to accomplish the maintenance needed to keep the already existing national monuments in a “condition that meets accepted codes, laws and standards and to achieve service life expectancies.”

Rather than addressing this problem by drastically increasing the National Park Service’s budget, National Park Service should be encouraged to examine their existing budget and explore alternatives to responsibly maintain national monuments. Leonard Gilroy, the Director of Government Reform at the Reason Foundation, has noted that partnerships between the private and public sector could potentially serve to alleviate National Park Services existing maintenance backlog and allow for more cost-efficient conservation practices in the future.

Public land and monuments are a valuable cultural and economic asset, but effectively and efficiently maintaining them without placing an inordinate burden on taxpayers should be a main priority. Before adding more national monuments to the preservation list, government should be sure that it can care for the previously designated monuments in a cost-efficient way.

Private-public partnership have proven successful in reducing the time and cost of completing government projects in a number of different areas. Applying the lessons learned in those instances could better preserve our national monuments from deterioration while also safeguarding taxpayers from unnecessary costs.

Note: Thanks to NTUF Associate Policy Analyst Spencer Woody who drafted this post.