US Parks Are $17.2 Billion In The Hole, Which Keeps Getting Deeper

(Daily Caller News Foundation) The bureaucrats in charge of U.S. national parks and forests are $17.2 billion dollars in the hole, according to a new report by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC).

Blue Ridge Parkway sign photo

Photo by jared422_80 (CC)

The report found the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) owe billions in backlogged expenses and aren’t trying to fix the problem, as they’re still almost completely reliant on Congress for funding. NPS and USFS can make significant reductions to the backlog without budget increases by reducing costs and slashing red tape, a Congressional committee reported Thursday in a hearing. The committee also noted that both agencies previously resisted similar advice.

“The Park Service is almost entirely reliant on Congress for funding,” Shawn Regan, a researcher with PERC, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Very little comes from user fees. There are benefits to having parks become more self-sufficient when possible.”

Currently, NPS owes almost $12 billion in deferred maintenance and other backlogged expenses, meaning that the agency would need to spend five times the amount it gets every year from Congress to fix its maintenance backlog, which is expected to grow each year. The USFS has a similar backlog of roughly $5.2 billion.

“Politicians would much rather create a new park than fund existing parks and that’s the problem,” Regan said. “From 2006 we had 390 national park units. We have 417 today. This growth in the number of park units doesn’t come with new funding, it spreads the NPS’ resources thinner and thinner and makes the problem worse.”

Much of the enormous backlog facing the two agencies is caused by expanding operations at the expense of basic maintenance. The NPS added 18 new units to the national parks system since 2009, costing the agency an enormous amount of money. As the mission of NPS expanded, the agency became increasingly unable to fund necessary maintenance projects.

The correlation between new park units and deferred maintenance is quite direct. The U.S. government has spent more than $10 billion acquiring new public lands, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“Yellowstone and Yosemite National Park each have maintenance backlogs that are half a billion dollars,” Regan told TheDCNF. “Those are the crown jewels of the NPS and we’re not even maintaining them because we’re distracted with all these new units. There are a lot of ways the Park Service could set fees so that they could rely more on users than on Congress for revenue.”

The problem with backlogged maintenance has been going on for quite some time, but the agency has been reluctant about raising money by charging fees or authorizing businesses in the parks.

“NPS misses a lot of opportunities to raise funds,” Regan said. “Seniors used to only pay $10 dollars for a lifetime pass to all NPS parks and they’d never have to pay again. That’s ridiculous.”

PERC previously recommended that NPS sell off unnecessary federal lands and use the proceeds to address the backlog, work closer with the private sector to raise revenues or allow park managers to set up user fees without Congressional approval.

“Some federal lands have very little public value and could be sold to private users,” Regan continued. “85 percent of Nevada is federally owned, but the authority to sell of the lands has expired. Why not sell off that land and use the revenues to maintain these parks?”

NPS, the USFS and other agencies control a lot of land, but they generally lose money even when renting it out to private industries for use. Additionally, the federal government imposes restrictions on how leased land can be used. Consequently, mining and energy tend to be the only profitable leases.

“The federal government loses money on most aspects of federal land management whether it is timber, grazing or recreation,” Regan noted. “The only exception is mineral and energy development. If we make the process of developing resources on federal lands easier that could go a long way. The total US oil and natural gas production from federal lands has declined steadily despite a boom in energy on private land.”

Republished with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation via iCopyright license.

  • Richard Bagenstose

    like philly , they said, the national parks add millions every year to their economy , but tax payers have to fund them , so if philly is making millions every year off of them why don’t they use some of the money to take care of them , the whole thing is mis-managed ,once again government can’t run a shoe shine stand yet alone a country

  • richjack4

    If they are so reliant on government funding, what happens with the exorbitant fees that we pay to visit these sites?

    • ravenwings

      Yes where has that money been going. All the new rigs they drive around. All the fees they impose. That one said seniors pay $10 and nothing again. That is an inaccuate statement.
      It only gives us the right to pay 1/2 the fees.

      • richjack4

        That’s why there is something fishy with this. Have you visited any national forests? The fees are absolutely ridiculous! What happened to this money on top of the funding that they already get? Don’t tell me it goes to maintenance

        • Joe Snowblower

          Have you checked the Clinton Foundation ?

          • richjack4

            As one who worked in NYC, that has been a personal interest long before it became a national topic

          • Sylvia Avila

            Now that is good! Hillary and Bill take money from everyone!

      • Peter Bradin

        You are wrong. I have a lifetime senior pass that gets me into virtually every National Park and Monument in our country. I think I might have paid five dollars for it, but it might have been free. Anyway, it still works and I have had it a few years. I used it last year at Everglades National Park.

        • SadCook

          Sorry Peter, unless you can provide good details, my research shows that you may be telling a big fib. I am disabled and retired, all camping that I can find using the card is no less than $10 per night and requires reservations.

          • ravenwings

            That is if you can find a place to camp now a days!! We have always had to pay 1/2 price. with the card. And that is just for Federal. The State is a different one. Pay $10 per year for that for entry pay 1/2 for boat lauch and full for camping site.

          • SadCook

            ravenwings, thank-you for the additional info.

          • Marvin Woodworth

            SadCook, if you’re 62 or older you buy the lifetime sr pass for $10 if you act soon. Soon the sr lifetime pass will cost $80.. Perhaps the entry and the camping are separate costs? Peter is talking only of entry into parks, and not separate costs unrelated to entry.


          • SadCook

            Marvin, thank you for the clarity.

          • Steven Daniel

            camping is an additional expense period. But you are mentally handicapped

          • SadCook

            Thanks for your input

          • Dave

            That’s correct the senior card like the disabled vet card is for entry & day use not camping.

          • Denny Sorah

            Golden Passport is a one time purchase card that grants free entrance to any NPS park. You do not get free lodging, food, animals or trees and rocks for this pass.

          • Peter Bradin

            I didn’t say anything about camping. It just lets you in for free. Still use it at Everglades National Park.

        • ravenwings

          Then I am getting rooked. Have had mine for about 15 years. Paid $10 for it and get charged every where I go. I just have to pay 1/2 price.!!

        • Marvin Woodworth

          Same here. I have a lifetime senior pass that cost me $10. That pass price for NEW buyers will continue only briefly, as the lifetime sr pass will soon go up to $80. Better buy it now before the price increases.

      • Sylvia Avila

        I agree? Where is this Government Money going? Spending on their selves just like other Government agency’s.

    • bob laford

      Sounds like NPS is being managed like the Federal Government.

      • Denny Sorah

        The NPS is a branch of the Interior Department which IS the Federal Government.

    • Sylvia Avila

      Right! I would like to know myself?

  • ravenwings

    Who is this Regon. One thing he doesn’t know the facts. Seniors pay a $10 fee for what is a golden card. Allows us to pay 1/2 the price of a parking space. He is out of line.

  • ravenwings

    They also would not be in so much trouble if they took care of the property normally. Not with every single environmental regulation there is. You can’t even pick up the trash in the place without one of their goons coming around and telling you not too. The broken off twig is just trash but not to the environmentalist.

  • Slav2012

    Hmm….wonder if all those lands Obola made off limits are included in the “New Units” referred to in the article?

  • Daniel Yingling

    The other real issue is that Obama set aside more land to National Parks than all the other presidents combined going back to their inception. One more way to stress our economy and reduce the opportunities of human beings to live outside the cities. It also has reduced the potential for farming the land while the federal govt pays farmers billions to not farm.
    Their claim of less dirt is another lie. A joke promulgated upon Americans naive enough to believe it. It’s food costs that have put me on the brink of not being able to remain in dependant and live alone. Food and/or prescriptions is my choice since prescription cost under medicare have gone from 150 to 500 in one year.
    The supposed benefit of 3300 and hit the donut hole is a lie. They take what they pay and what I pay, add it together to reach 3300. Annually.
    I have found that discount cards can get about the same price for most meds. But the govt won’t allow discount cards if you have medicare.
    The pharmacies will take a discount card if the prescription is denied. So when that happens I don’t fight it and get it covered, I simply use a discount card.

  • Mort Leith

    You wanna talk about the USPS ? ? ?

    They’re losing over 2-4 $Billion every 3 months ! ! ! !

    And yet our libT ard socialist dipshiits refuse to put it out to another bid to save the taxpayers TONS of $$$$$$$$$$$$$4

    • ravenwings

      That is another story!! There is unbelievable inefficiency in that system. Mail a letter at the PO to go across the street from the PO. It takes a 25 mile trip to another town, to take another 260 mile trip to be sorted to be sent back to the 260 miles to 2nd town, to be returned to the 25 miles to same PO to be installed in the PO Box of recipient.

      Or a package from Idaho to go to Medford, Oregon. goes to Spokane, Washington, to Oscala, Florida, before going to Medford, Oregon. A 12 hour drive.

      • Craig Vandertie

        Yes, the Federal government is famous for incompetence and inefficiency, time to contract out and put the services up for bid on a yearly basis.

    • Craig Vandertie

      That is why there are less Post Office and P.O. box locations every year, and postage rates are constantly going up, if they are that desperate do away with 3rd Class mail and charge businesses through the nose, that would stop all that annoying Junk mail.

  • marcus johannes

    National Parks are one thing , National Forrest is another , Technically no citizen of this Nation should pay anything to spend time in our National Forest , National Parks have been run into the ground ever since Slick Willy Clinton screwed this nation in oh so many ways ,It is too long a list to list here

    • ravenwings

      BUT You do!!! It has gotten so expensive etc. Thinking of selling RV and staying home.
      You have to get reservations almost 6 months ahead. Who knows what they are going to be doing at a certain time that far ahead! Environmentalist have destroyed so much you can not even sit and smell the trees.

  • Jim

    I think that most anything ran by the government is destined to fail! Way to much regulation, from who they hire to who is capable!

  • Peter Bradin

    The U.S. Park Service was never set up to be a money-making proposition. It was set up to protect and preserve natural lands for future generations. That would be like saying the military is supposed to turn a profit or that schools should turn a profit. The military was set up to protect and preserve our national sovereignty. Schools are set up to teach our young people about people, science, human history and natural history, how to get along with other people and cultures and be ready for life as an adult. The National Parks are a national treasure that teach us about our country and preserve very special lands for all of us to see and help us understand what this land was like before we arrived here. If you do not understand that, then you probably don’t care about American History or World History. It is from studying history, natural and national and political, that we learn where we came from, how we got to where we are now, and how best to move into the future. Our National Parks and other national lands are very important to teaching us who we are.

  • gdonna612

    Harry Reid’s son bought thousands of acres of land in Nevada, which he in turn, is selling to the Chinese (he got a deep discount, of course). This land is the land the Bundy Ranch lies on, also, so that is why the EPA and BLM were out there killing cattle and burning ranches. Now, these ranchers are in jail, still awaiting trial. Smells fishy, big time, and Trump should take a look at this before any more talk about selling public lands. The parks charge fees for everything so why are they bankrupting themselves???

    • ravenwings

      This was a land grab by Reid and crew.

    • Craig Vandertie

      Selling U.S. soil to the Chinese government, and yes business men or not they have some government title of some kind in Communist China being a true Communist nation.

      I was in 8th grade when I heard that idiot Carter was going to relinquish control of the Panama Canal and Canal zone to the Panamanian government, not being able to cover the cost of maintenance the Panamanian government in turn sold it to the Chinese government, China will yet establish the replacement currency for the U.S. dollar.

      You just have to read this article they way they phrase the facts will make you laugh at just how sleazy politicians like Harry Reid are.

    • Craig Vandertie

      The EPA involved in burning ranches and killing cattle, does that not go against what they are suppose to prevent, as in slaughtering animals with no benefit to the U.S. populace considering they just buried the carcasses, and the pollution from burning buildings and bushes, neither is good for the environment.

      What is BLM an acronym for?


        Bureau of Land Management, I think. But also Black Lives Matter uses the acronym. Confusing in the headlines…

        • Craig Vandertie

          You are correct in both cases I Bingen BLM, but already knew that among certain people it means Black Lives Matter that certainly is not being racially unbiased though.

          • Craig Vandertie

            Confusing is an understatement, but then again I would imagine there are plenty of groups, agencies, bureaus, etc cetera that use the acronym.

  • gdonna612

    To Mort’s comment: Diane Feinstein’s husband’s company either owns or holds the leases on all the USPS buildings, with no bid contracts, for the next 75 years. There’s a stinky liberal set-up if I ever saw one.

  • Carol

    Since Congress feeds them money, it seems time they look at ways to at least break even. Get some business people involved. Sorry but govt regulators are just that, you need someone that understands the profit motive. You can’t always be in the hole.

  • Anvil6

    Rule One for Holes: When you’re IN one, STOP DIGGING.

    For the National Park Service: When someone tries to “give” you another, JUST SAY “NO”.

    Lands ‘enrolled’ as National Parks/Monuments, etc. ARE REMOVED from State property tax rolls, CUTTING revenues received by States.

    • delbert morris

      How many and just how large do the parks have to be? Sell off some of the land for development, homes, business’s ect.

  • John

    President Trump needs to drain that swamp or fill it up with these bureaucratics. Open up some of the land for oil leases and some for TARGETED lumbering.This would make the parks profitable and protect them in the long riun.

    • delbert morris

      return the parks back to state control.

      • DaveyJ

        State Control of our National Parks??? You have NO IDEA what you are talking about! I have a PhD in natural resources, and have followed farm land, park land, etc., to,think that our National Parks would get turned into NYS property to be run by the likes of Andrew Cuomo, Chuck Schumer, and DeBlasio! Absolute RUIN!

      • Craig Vandertie

        That is treason, the next thing you know people will be demanding they do away the NTSB and instead of the states having to turn money over to the Federal government for transportation maintenance expenses they just keep it.

        In the case of “Diamond” Jim Doyle the feds. should have taken all the money for the state of WI for road and bridge maintenance or replacement expenses, before he could put it towards reinvesting money into the Teachers pension after the Brokerage house they invested the money through lost it all.

    • Dave

      Or reduce the number of parks! Why are they creating so many new parks & monuments when the current ones are not self sufficient and want bailed out by congress every year. Reduce the bureaucracy.

      • DaveyJ

        Dave….YOU are right, many other suggest bad ideas!

    • DaveyJ

      I voted for Trump. But the suggestion that you make would affect more conservatives than liberals. And your last word in your post accurately discribes the net impact. RUIN! Unlike you, I have land, and it is superbly managed, dump federal lands on the market and their timber and the price of timber would plummet! Logging places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and at least 150 other parks would hurt the private sector to a huge degree. Oil? Saudi Arabia is soon going to go public on its oil reserves, sitting on well over a trillion barrels……and YOU think we out to start drilling on National Parks? NYS on the other hand prohibits Hydro fracking for Natural Gas! Counties right across the NY border in Pa. have gotten rich and have helped USA independence from a lot of foreign oil. But in Chuck Schumer land, although NYC uses natural gas in huge amounts and almost every other place in NYS opposed to natural gas drilling uses it BIG TIME. What is needed is cut back on some of the “cultural National Parks” which are urban politics out of control. 3104 Voted in the USA for Trump, 100 voted for HRC, to continue Obama Care of our Resources.

    • Craig Vandertie

      The real problem as always is crooked politicians and the staff of the Interior Department start getting rid of them, actually file charges for misappropriation of the taxpayers money.

  • dahniuru

    Everything the government does costs me more money, for fewer services. Of curse the are in debt; they issue contracts to their friends for actions that they don’t do, or they continue to increase the cost to the government while stretching out the jobs. Cut new parks acquisitions. Cut current budgets. Evaluate where they have been spending money for the past 10 years.

  • delbert morris

    Maybe they need to return the back to the states they stole it from, Such as the million acres Odummer announced as a new park in the state of Utah.

  • Steven Daniel

    Use the United Nations money to run the national Parks

  • Rap Scallion

    So is this the move to sell off our national assets to the Chinese or the highest bidders…..Russians, Oil Sheiks, Islamic states?????????

  • Budget cut with improved performance…
    Hire true conservationist who will write an essay as to why they should be hire at minimum wage (and then deduct minimal for room and board) to rebuild-restore-improve-clean and maintain these national treasures. Applicants must provide a deposit for return trip if fired and applications must include a strict set of behavioral requirements for which they would be immediately fired if infracted.
    Make the requirements tough and they will fill every slot. Youths are looking for an honest challenge with meaning.

  • wattsupstupid

    The Fed. Gov owns this much land in UT. and this is before bo added Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is a 1.35 million acre, so add that to the total below. Total state acreage: 52,696,960
    Total federal land acreage: 35,033,603
    Federal land percentage of state: 66.5%
    Number of national parks: 13
    UT would like to have their lands back under the state not the feds.

  • chris VN

    So obumass thought it was a great idea to add even more parks than any other President???

  • Dave

    this is another hiding spot for the politicians to rake in the cash and skrew over the taxpayers you don’t have to drill or anything else just make sure the money that is collected goes back into the parks instead of their pockets what a joke right away we have to start raping and pillaging the land when if you have people that are responsible and manage the way it’s supposed to be there would be solvent

  • TPS12

    Fire all those who are mismanaging funds and hire someone who will correct the problem.

  • DaveyJ

    The Obama Administration added Parks of mostly doubtful value. It is Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Acadia, etc. but some of these “cultural parks are foolish and grossly political in nature! Next thing you know terrorist spots will be national treasures if Obama had his way.,

  • DaveyJ

    My senior lifetime pass was $50.

  • Craig Vandertie

    Here is an idea, the $5,000 to $7,500 they add to the price of any of the GMC Denali Special Editions a nice chunk of that should go to the Interior Department.

    As for my estimate of the additional cost of the GMC Denali Special Editions I have inquired about the topic you are it most likely cost less starting with a base version and adding extra features, do not get me wrong, speaking with various people who have owned both Chevrolet trucks and GMCs which they prefer and all said the GMC, but paying that much for the Denali Edition is ridiculous.

    So I wandered off into the wilderness as in a National Park, yes the entrance fees alone should have more than enough to efficiently payou for the wages of the Rangers and the upkeep of the parks, yet another perfect example of bureaucrats stealing from the taxpayers.

  • Wayne The Seine

    As an avid outdoorsman I can attest to the decline in overall quality of the parks I have been/stayed in over the past years. Roads are in need of repair, general maint. does not seem to be taking place. That being said, I would rather see $$ spent on Parks and Recreation areas than some of the other foolishness as well as foreign handouts by the billions.

    Our parks are a treasure…..they belong to us and are really a value. WE MUST KEEP OUR PARKS AND KEEP THEM MAINTAINED AT A HIGH LEVEL. This is one area I don’t mind seeing tax dollars spent.

    Of course, politicians have managed to weaponize this agency as well. They gleefully shut down all the parks every time there is a govt. shutdown. Including placing cones on public highway pull offs to prevent viewing…..they want the shut down painful ……very panful.

  • CompletelyOutsane

    Get government out of private land ownership! Feds need post offices, military bases and embassies and little else.

  • Joe Snowblower

    Perhaps they should quit making every piece of ground that is over twenty foot square a National Park.

  • Crazy Barry

    If the actual usage of these national parks was known, the American people would demand changes. No actual numbers are ever released, but it’s estimated that less than 2% of Americans will ever visit a national park! They have become the private, taxpayer-funded playgrounds of the park employees and radical environmentalists. The National Park system is just another insatiable government monster growing out of control, demanding ever more and more funds to sustain it’s self.

  • richjack4

    The issue is not so much where they go, but what accounts for the 17.2 billion deficit.

  • Herb1949

    Considering that the USFS no longer “manage” forest land, the agency needs to be done away with. They no longer sell timber, even after a massive forest fire, they prevent the use of any of the lands with locked gates and tear up the roads so people can’t even drive into the forest areas. Shut them down and fire the whole bunch.

  • Beeker D.

    Well the Liberal/Progressives have a solution to this. FIRST, of course “It’s All President Trump and George Bush’s Fault! SECOND, we have just too many people that don’t pay enough for the damage that they do to the Park’s so fee’s should be raised at least 300%. THIRD, The National Park System should be opened for residence and housing of Refugee’s and Illegal Immigrants since they know how to run our country so much better than the current TAX PAYERS and CITIZEN’S that have very few opportunities and time to enjoy what Their Blood Sweat and Tears are paying for!’
    (sarc/ & flippancy meant)

  • teachersaide

    As far as I’m concerned, one of the MAJOR problems with National Parks, is the VANDALISM of the IDIOTS, who take a dump in the restroom, but it’s NOT in the toilet; those who toss their garbage everywhere, including into hot springs in Yellowstone; clearly do NOT read the warning signs, and ACT like WE all owe them something, because the parks are a “national resource’!