Utah’s Rob Bishop and Democratic counterpart unveil $5 billion plan to start tackling national parks’ maintenance backlog

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) In this May 5, 2015, photo hikers walk on the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park. More than 30,000 people crowded to Zion National Park in a single day over Memorial Day weekend as the iconic red-rock landscape at the already crowded park remains highly popular.

Washington • House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., on Wednesday introduced legislation to earmark some $5.2 billion over five years to fix aging roads, trails and other basic needs at national parks and wildlife refuges that have been piling up for decades.

The bipartisan bill, which is matched by a similar Senate measure, is aimed at starting to tackle a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog at America’s national parks where sewer systems, bridges, paths and structures have been crumbling – or in some cases, not working – because of a lack of funding for the National Park Service.

“Our parks are national treasures. Let’s start treating them that way,” Bishop said in introducing the legislation. “This bipartisan bill will put us on the path to improving our parks for future generations.”

The bill would help repair public works projects at 400 national parks as well as land managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education. Money for the work would come from royalties on oil and gas extraction on public lands.

Utah’s national parks, monuments and historic sites alone have $266 million in needed maintenance, according to the National Park Service. Zion National Park accounts for $65 million of that, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes Lake Powell, needs $63 million and Canyonlands National Park about $41 million.

While fights over management of public lands – and what lands should be protected – are often partisan, the bill is aimed at crossing that divide.

“I’m pleased to join Chairman Bishop to add overdue maintenance and repair work at national parks and public lands to the list of projects eligible for this dedicated funding,” said Grijalva, who often clashes with the Utah Republican. “Chairman Bishop and I share a commitment to providing visitors, both now and in the future, a world-class parks system.”

President Donald Trump’s budget plan released earlier this year called for an $18 billion fund to rebuild national parks and wildlife refuges as well as add money to the Native American education system run by the Interior Department. The budget, though, also called for new authority to sell off public lands.

That is not part of the new bipartisan bill, which earned positive reviews Wednesday from environmentalists, park aficionados and outdoor and tourism groups.

“National Parks are the backbone of the federal recreation system,” said Fred Ferguson, vice president of government relations of Vista Outdoor and a former Bishop legislative director. “For far too long these treasures have not received the care and attention worthy of America’s ‘Best Idea.'”

“The effort to find a compromise to fix our parks is not only bipartisan; now it is also bicameral,” said Marcia Argust, who directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ restore America’s parks campaign. “Pew applauds Rep. Rob Bishop and his colleagues for collaborating on this proposal, which combines the best of the parks deferred-maintenance bills and provides significant and consistent funding to address the backlog.”

Sens. Mark Warner, Angus King and Lamar Alexander have introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Utah’s senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, are so far not co-sponsoring the bill.