Nice boots, so-so plan

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2001

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

George W. Bush has a great idea-one of those win-win things. Hiking through Sequoia National Park in his cowboy boots this week, the president proposed a five-year, $5 billion program to fix up the national parks. He called it "a new environmentalism for the 21st century." The plan would be financed in part by putting off the purchasing of parklands.

Can Bush be such a bad guy on the environment if he wants to do such good things for the national parks? After all, everyone loves the parks.

Well, this may be new environmentalism to Bush, but it's old hat to Washington and veteran park watchers. Twenty years ago, another new GOP president, Ronald Reagan, and his secretary of the Interior, James Watt, proposed something similar: a five-year, $1 billion program to catch up with deferred maintenance in the parks-roads, buildings and water and sewer systems. Watt proposed to pay for it by freezing the purchase of parkland.

Then, as now, there's no question of the need. The parks always are playing catch-up on maintenance and construction. But the real reason for the Reagan-Watt initiative 20 years ago was to deflect the political firestorm created by Watt's flamboyant anti-environmental policies, including exploitation of the national estate for more energy resources.

Bush and his secretary of the Interior, Watt protg Gale A. Norton, have not suffered quite such a furious lashing by environmentalists. But Bush's energy program and his reversal of some Clinton administration environmental initiatives have caused him a political problem. What's the antidote? Hug the parks.

Even if it's not a new idea, we welcome Bush's park initiative. But the nation needs to keep buying land, too, in places such as the Santa Monica Mountains. And the National Park Service needs more money to protect the natural resources that made them parks in the first place. And Yosemite Valley needs its new management plan. And Yellowstone needs to be without snowmobiles in the winter So, Mr. President, trade in the cowboy boots for hiking boots and keep the park ideas coming.

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