The National Park Service is set to get $2.6 billion next year, which is a big problem, since it is unnecessary. After listening to liberal propaganda promoting the National Park Service, one would believe that the “bad” companies responsible for industrialization would have destroyed every inch of land with resources on it had the federal government not intervened. It is reasonable, however, to assume that there would still be nature reserves and parks to visit if the government had not intervened, as there are reasons to not destroy it. Private individuals, companies, and groups would have found ways to preserve natural places when it was in their best interest. In fact, they have been doing just that even while the national government has been wasting taxpayers’ dollars on national parks. I will argue that private entities would have preserved natural places independent of the government’s actions.
It is absurd to think that, without government intervention, private entities would have allowed all lands now protected as national parks to be destroyed. After all, the National Park Service has only been around since 1916. And think about it, Niagara Falls turned out the way it did because of the hydro power that could be harnessed from it. Old Faithful would probably have ended up looking the same even if the government had not intervened, as its attraction was not industrial. In other words, if it is not profitable, corporations will not “desecrate” natural places. If the profiteering comes from allowing the public access to it, corporations will preserve the land. Also, it is worth noting that businesses, after all this time, have not destroyed all of the resource-abundant natural places that fall outside of government designated parks. Furthermore, individual businessmen do not want to live in a world devoid of natural places. The Wilbur Hot Springs health sanctuary and retreat in California shows how some wealthy people will purchase large swaths of land for the serenity of being in natural places. Many businessmen have actually helped in the creation of private nature reserves and conservation efforts. Ted Turner’s ranches, which “operate as working businesses,” focus on “water resource management, reforestation, and the reintroduction of native species.” Does this sound like the work of a private individual intent on destroying the environment.
If we look at the history of wild areas in the United States from the turn of the century until now through a counterfactual lens that removes government involvement, we would probably be left with a land in which scattered nature reserves and parks were owned by private entities with varying interests. Conservation groups like the Sierra Club had been in existence before the National Park Service was created, so their efforts would have prevented the total destruction of natural places. According to German President Horst Kohler, Rhine Romanticism dictated that the “attractive and fairy tale-like landscape” of Prussia had to be preserved, which is why nature reserves in Germany were created. The lesson is that scenery is sometimes more valuable than timber or minerals, which is why private individuals buy up tracts of land and combine them to make conservation reserves. This would have likely happened in the United States on a larger scale if the government did not control the national parks. Tourists may also have provided incentives for companies to buy up land and preserve it. Campers, hunters, and sightseers all have reasons to want natural places preserved, and will pay to have access to them. According to an article in the CATO Journal, “the private firms operating the parks would have every incentive to preserve their beauty in order to attract customers, who would then pay admission fees that “would generate information on consumer willingness to pay for park services, and those park services that were preferred would be provided.” Fishermen and members of other occupations that rely on ecosystems would have also stepped in and helped the private conservation effort, as extinctions are bad for business. In other words, private entities would have preserved places with important ecosystems because it would have been in their interests, even if they were not scenic or good for hunting. Without government intervention, businesses would still have ignored places where it would not have been profitable to industrialize. However, nature reserves may have valuable resources located beneath them, in which case many people will assert, such as in the case of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, that a lack of government protection will lead to their destruction. Despite these assertions, destruction is not imminent, as a balance of mining for borax and land conservation existed in Death Valley National Park until 2005. Private entities would have preserved the American landscape without government intervention.
I believe that the privatization of federal lands is a task that can be accomplished within the next decade. I would use the British government’s proposed plan to privatize national parks in the United Kingdom as support for my argument that nationalization of natural areas is not necessary for their preservation. The British government was prepared to offer a quarter of the woodlands to charities and communities, while putting half of the land “on the open market” and keeping control of the last quarter, but that plan was shot down. Volunteerism would be one possible way to provide services to the public while maintaining private ownership of the park. The Radnorshire Wildlife Trust was founded as “a volunteer only group” in 1987 and now operates 19 reserves in the UK. Private firms could also profit from preserving these lands, so that is another possibility. As the American government has already been involved in the operation of the national parks, privatization would probably have to involve “contracting out support services to private firms operating for profit,” thus preserving public ownership. In any case, I believe that the privatization of government owned lands and continued conservation projects by private individuals would preserve the landscape of the United States at a lower cost than if the government stayed involved.
Even with government intervention, private entities continue to preserve wild areas. There is no reason to believe that these same entities would not have preserved the areas that the government turned into national parks had the government not gotten involved. Private firms and volunteers could operate federal lands, while they remain under public control, relieving current government duties. In other words, further government involvement in the preservation of these lands is unnecessary.
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