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The States Should Control National Parks

Allowing states to control national parks would minimize the effects of government shutdowns on them and provide all the benefits of localized government.

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Jack Shields | United States

The federal government has been shut down since December 22nd. I am a huge fan of government shutdowns, as I believe they disprove a popular illusion about the importance of government. The illusion, of course, is that we need government to shield us from the dangers of freedom and without the government being involved in every part of our lives, we’d fall apart in violent anarchy. But it’s been weeks since the shutdown. I’m not dead. No one else is dead. People are still getting their Social Security checks. The military is still out there protecting us, fully funded. Everything is okay. And the fact there are parts of the federal government that can be labeled as ‘non-mandatory’ and not be funded during this shutdown ought to prove the government has grown way too large and we should rid ourselves of these self-acclaimed unnecessary programs. You’d be hard pressed to find a private company that could survive long while paying non-mandatory employees. Many of these non-mandatory programs should just be defunded and forgotten about forever (the study which analyzed the effects of cocaine on a bird’s sexuality comes to mind). However, many are extremely popular and aren’t going anywhere, with national parks being perhaps the biggest example. These types of programs should be devolved back to the state level. This will restore federalism and actually improve the state of the parks.

The idea of national parks was conceived in the mid nineteenth century, with advocates such as John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Stephen Mather claiming the federal government should ensure that some land is kept natural and preserved so that all generations may experience their beauty. And they were incredibly successful. The first of such came about when President Lincoln required California to preserve Yosemite. Then, President Grant made Yellowstone the first official national park. More were gradually added but the number of national parks skyrocketed under President Theodore Roosevelt, as he added national parks, national monuments, national game refuges, bird sanctuaries, and millions of acres of national forests. Under President Wilson, the National Park Service was created in 1916, and today there are 392 national parks along with millions and millions of acres of other federally protected lands and areas.

National parks in and of themselves may not be such a bad idea. I, for one, am certainly sympathetic to the idea we should preserve some of nature for the generations to come. Even one of the greatest Libertarian thinkers of all time, Ron Swanson of Parks and Rec, seemed to give exception to the national parks when it came to his philosophy of an almost nonexistent government. But just because something is a good idea does not mean the federal government should be the one doing it. If this was true, then we should immediately give the federal government complete control over the economy, violent crime, schools, and every single issue that has ever existed. Because, after all, if it’s a good idea, why shouldn’t everyone do it? This logic is in complete contradiction of federalism, localism, and most importantly the Constitution.

The United States was designed to allow most decisions to be decided at a local level. This was because it holds the representatives more accountable, ensures there are more similarly held beliefs, prevents tyranny, and actually makes more people happy with their government. When it comes to the national parks, there isn’t too much concern that tyranny will arise from them, so making the people happy is the most important issue, and localization ensures the highest success rate. Say for example there are 100 people living in Texas and 80 living in New Mexico. In Texas, 80 people want to increase the budget for the parks. In New Mexico, only 30 want to increase the budget. Under a federalized park system, the budget is increased, with 110 citizens being left pleased with the turnout, and 70 citizens being left disappointed. But under true federalism, the budget is increased in Texas but left the same in New Mexico. This leaves 130 citizens being left pleased with their respective states’ decisions, and only 50 being left disappointed. If Americans want more funding for parks, more protections, or perhaps they’d rather sell the land, all that is well and good. But it should be decided at the state level, leaving more people happy.

Even more important than ensuring the happiness of the citizenry, national parks should be devolved to the states according to the Constitution. There’s really nothing wrong with the idea of parks, and National Parks aren’t really a tyrannical threat to liberty, so most people are probably fine with them being run by the federal government. But we are either a nation of men or a nation of laws. And seeing as because of the principles it is built on, a nation of men turning tyrannical is almost certain, I’d much rather live in a nation of laws. That means strictly upholding the Constitution. Even when it comes to the fun stuff like parks that almost no one has a problem with. Nowhere in the Constitution is the power to run national parks granted to the federal government. This fact requires two parts of the Constitution to be evaluated. First, Article I Section 8 Clause 18, known as the Elastic Clause. This clause states that any law may be passed to execute an enumerated power, and this has been interpreted to allow the federal government to have powers not specifically listed in the Constitution if they are necessary to execute an enumerated power. For example, requiring men to sign up for the draft is considered an implied power which is necessary in executing the power to raise and support armies granted by Article I Section 8 Clause 12. However, it is clear that having national parks isn’t necessary in order to coin money, regulate commerce, or any of the other powers granted to the federal government. Which leads to the 10th Amendment which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution says quite clearly what should be done when it comes to parks. 

This devolution of the parks to the states will not only be in line with the Constitution and make more people happy but will also ensure the parks are run more efficiently. Right now the federal government is shut down, which means the national parks are shut down. This means there is no tourism which is causing lots of money to be lost, no one is cleaning the parks (except a few cases of private, charitable parties doing it), and many other problems and inconveniences. The shut down is occurring because the Republicans and Democrats cannot come up with a compromise when it comes to immigration reform, more specifically, President Trump’s proposed wall. Which means tourists can’t go to the parks, and the parks are covered in trash that can’t be cleaned, because of immigration laws. It seems silly that immigration policy should determine whether or not you get to go to Yosemite. With parks in the hands of the states, President Trump and Speaker Pelosi can scream at each other all they want and shut down the government as long as they want, and it won’t effect your trip to the park one bit.

Devolving the national parks to the states would be a simple concept in a time of extreme partisanship and gridlock that would do a little to reign the federal government back into its constitutional boundaries, make citizens a little happier, and prove that not only does the federal government not have to be involved in every little thing, things may actually be better when they aren’t.


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