The view from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. As of June 30th of this year, attendance was up by 3 million from that time last year. (Photo: Taylor Davis, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Research from Harvard and Colorado State finds that Americans value maintaining the National Parks system through their taxes at over 30 times its annual appropriations. Host Steve Curwood sat down with Harvard professor Linda Bilmes to discuss why Americans care so deeply for these iconic places and how to put their future and protection on a sustainable financial footing.
CURWOOD: How much would taxpayers like to spend to support America’s National Parks? To answer that question Linda Bilmes of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, along with colleagues from Colorado State University carefully surveyed taxpayers in a recent study. And according to their research, the public would pay more than $90 billion a year to preserve and protect iconic places from Acadia to Zion. Yet the US National Park system currently receives less than $3 billion a year from Congress and suffers from a multi-billion dollar backlog of corroded or broken infrastructure. Professor Linda Bilmes is also a former US Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Administration and Budget, and we joined her in her office at Harvard. Welcome to the Living on Earth.
BILMES: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: What prompted you to do this study?
BILMES: I was lucky enough to serve on the Second Century Commission. It was a group of prominent Americans including Sandra Day O’Connor. Sylvia Earle, Rita Colwell, James McPherson of Princeton, and a number of senators and congressmen, and we were thinking about how to protect the National Parks over the next 100 years. And one of the conclusions that we reached was that the financial picture was not sustainable given the way the National Parks are funded at the moment. So in order to begin thinking about creating a more sustainable financial structure for the national parks, we needed to establish a baseline for what the parks were actually worth, and actually no one had done this before. So this led me to begin thinking about how one could estimate the total economic value of the National Park Service and to do it in time for the centennial.