The Trump administration has an unusual strategy to fund the maintenance of U.S. national parks — generate monies by letting private companies lease oil drilling rights in the parks.

President Donald Trump released his proposed fiscal 2019 budget on Monday and it calls for a new fund to help tackle a $12 billion maintenance backlog at the parks.

A proposed Public Lands Infrastructure Fund could help make a dent in the maintenance backlog at national parks and other sites the Interior Department manages.

“The fund would be derived from 50 percent of incremental energy leasing receipts
over 2018 Budget projections that are not otherwise allocated for other purposes,” the budget states. “As [the Department of the Interior] works to expand federal energy development on federal lands and waters, this initiative has the potential to generate up to $18 billion over 10 years for parks and other public lands infrastructure.”

The document suggests that the these projects would improve the parks and other public facilities.

The proposed budget allocates $11.3 billion for the Department of the Interior, which runs the national parks, a 16 percent decrease from the amount the department received in fiscal 2017. It’s unclear how much of the pie the budget would allot to the park service.

The budget would also cut more than 2,000 park service jobs even though national park visits are at record highs at some venues.

Controversial Funding Approach

Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said the national parks will face more threats and challenges if the proposed budget is passed. “If the President and his administration sincerely want to address these challenges, they must start by adequately funding them and developing policies that support the mission of the National Park Service,” said Francis, in a statement.

He said any increased parks funding shouldn’t come at the expense of the environment.

“The national parks need more funding, but there is much more this administration must do to reverse the destruction it has wrought in only one year,” Francis said.

The budget calls for expanded public access to land and waterways that the Department of the Interior operates.

“The budget also invests in increased access to encourage sportsmen and women conservationists, veterans, minorities, and underserved communities that traditionally have low participation in outdoor recreation activities,” the budget states.

It’s encouraging to see the White House acknowledging that the national parks have maintenance and infrastructure needs, but the staff cuts will take a toll.

In an administration that denies the existence of climate change, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke sides more with the oil industry than environmentalists. Last year, Zinke  suspended nearly 200 park service committees and boards pending an internal review and reassigned about 50 park service top managers, dispatching some to parts of the agency where they had no experience.

Most of the park service’s advisory board quit last month, citing frustration with leadership and the fact that Secretary Zinke refused to meet with the board since taking office.

Photo Credit: The National Park Service maintenance backlog might be addressed in the Trump administration's proposed fiscal 2019 budget. Pictured are visitors taking photos at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona. Felicia Fonseca / Associated Press