Editorial:

Pence visit to Yellowstone needs to be more than photo op

Posted 6/20/19

Summer is in full swing, and visitors from all over the world are descending on Yellowstone National Park in droves to enjoy the sights and sounds of what our glorious treasure has to …

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Editorial:

Pence visit to Yellowstone needs to be more than photo op

Posted

Summer is in full swing, and visitors from all over the world are descending on Yellowstone National Park in droves to enjoy the sights and sounds of what our glorious treasure has to offer.

Adding to this list of wide-eyed wanderers, the park featured a very special group of visitors last week, as Vice President Mike Pence, recently-confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Pence’s wife Karen made an appearance at one of Yellowstone’s most famous hot spots.

Pence was at Old Faithful Thursday to double down on the current administration’s “commitment to conservation,” specifically addressing the $12 billion national maintenance backlog. It was also an opportunity for the VP to espouse the proposed Department of Interior budget, which has earmarked $3 billion for work on national parks.

And though it was a disruption for visitors like the family of five from Wichita, who arrived at Old Faithful to find the iconic landmark had been commandeered by the Secret Service for most of the day, the VP’s visit was an important one. Photo ops and platitudes notwithstanding, Pence’s visit was an indication that the administration is indeed aware of the dire situation facing our national parks, and that steps, however small at the moment, are being taken to address it. It was also an opportunity to introduce Bernhardt to this part of Wyoming, as the man who will be tasked with following through on Pence’s assurances.

Bernhardt was an interesting choice to succeed the train wreck that was Ryan Zinke at the Interior Department, who seemed more interested in the exploitation of our public lands than preservation. A former oil and gas lobbyist from Colorado, Bernhardt has been under investigation since joining the Interior Department in 2017 as deputy secretary, most notably for continuing to lobby for oil and gas interests well after he officially claimed he’d stopped.

But last week in front of a group of Yellowstone Park employees, Bernhardt warmed up the crowd by assuring them that the administration’s proposed legislation to fix infrastructure at national parks is a call to action that will soon be answered.

We hope he’s sincere. Visitation at our national parks continues to grow, while the number of employees tasked with maintaining them remains stagnant. Some of our most historic and beloved areas, including the six National Park Service properties in the state, are in need of immediate attention.   

Following a speech where he compared President Trump to former president Teddy Roosevelt in terms of their commitment to conservation, Pence and Bernhardt donned work gloves and safety glasses to assist park employees with the construction of a new boardwalk adjacent to Old Faithful. And although the VP may have taken up a nail gun mostly as a benefit for the gathered media members, the image of two of our nation’s leaders putting in a little grunt work left an impression.

For the sake of our national parks, let’s hope it’s the right one.

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