Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Stresses Public Lands’ Infrastructure Needs During Congressional Budget Hearing

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Stresses Public Lands’ Infrastructure Needs During Congressional Budget Hearing

America’s public lands and waters were front and center on Capitol Hill June 22 as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before the full House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources regarding the Department of the Interior’s FY2018 budget.

During the hearing, Secretary Zinke repeatedly talked about the need to update transportation infrastructure on public lands, as well as efforts to reduce the Department’s multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. In an exchange with Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), the Secretary emphasized making transportation an integral part of a park experience, saying, “The culture and experience of going to a park should be a wow, it should be a five-star…part of that is looking at public/private partnership on transportation…It should be an enriching experience. People should want to get on the transport. If they don’t get on the transport and view the park, something is going to be missing.” He further described the need for public/private partnerships to help people access their public lands, saying, “I don’t want to run a bus system, but I want to get the greatest talent of people in this country that care about our parks to design a transport system that, for lack of a better word, is the coolest system around.”

He stressed the need to provide services like Wi-Fi to attract new generations of park visitors saying, “Wi-Fi is another example. In parks, we’re the old generation; the young generation appreciates Wi-Fi and we should embrace that to make sure the park experience going down a trail is available on your phone.” Secretary Zinke also underscored how entrance fees can help address some of the Departments financial needs, including a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. “The best use, the most flexible funds are through the front door in our parks. We had 330 million visitors last year but…about half the parks don’t charge anything,” he said. Secretary Zinke went on to say that each eligible park should follow the current four-tier system of fees established in 2006.

Representative Garrett Graves (R-LA) called attention to the support for public lands and waters provided by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which allows 80% of recreation fees to be retained at the site where they are generated. He contrasted this approach with the 50/50 split between states and the federal government of revenues generated by offshore energy production.

To watch the full hearing on the Committee’s website, click here.