NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 17, 2007

The National Park Service has maintained low or no entrance fees to encourage the maximum number of visitors, but this has led to overuse and insufficient funds to properly maintain roads and facilities, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

The Park Service has been successful in attracting visitors (287 million people in 1999) and increasing the number of grazing animals -- but at a high price:

  • In the most popular parks, visitors regularly complain of air pollution from automobiles, cars interfering with scenic views and traffic jams hampering the natural experience.
  • The absence of predators to regulate populations and periodic fires to stimulate plant growth led to an overpopulation of grazing animals. 
  • In Yellowstone, elk have almost entirely driven out deer, bighorn and pronghorn sheep, and even beaver populations, or pushed them into poorer habitats, leaving them prey to disease and boom-and-bust population cycles. 

In contrast, individuals and private organizations have a long history of protecting environmentally valuable lands.  For instance:

  • The Audubon Society maintains more than 100 sanctuaries and nature centers comprising more than 300,000 acres.
  • The Nature Conservancy protects and maintains 15 million acres in the United States in nearly 1,400 private preserves -- an area greater than the states of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined. 

The concept of ownership can be extended to public lands.  For example, some federal lands could be sold or auctioned off to private parties (individuals, companies or nonprofit organizations).  Or management could be transferred to congressionally-approved boards or to states or counties that have demonstrated superior economic and environmental performance, says Burnett.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Protecting the Environment Through the Ownership Society — Part II," National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report No. 295, January 2007.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Environment Issues