I dedicated my career to our nation's system of national parks, serving for 25 years as a ranger at 12 different units within this system. I did this because I believe in the value of the national park system and our nation's other public lands and the impact that visiting and exploring those lands can have on my fellow Americans.
This is why I am so dismayed by the recent move by the United States Senate to confirm David Bernhardt as our nation's next Secretary of the Interior where he will oversee our national parks. His career until this point, including his time as the acting secretary, has made it crystal clear that David Bernhardt does not see the same value in our public lands that I see as a former park ranger. While I believe that these lands should be accessible to Americans and protected from development, Bernhardt seems to believe that the primary value of these lands is the financial compensation we receive for leasing them to oil, gas, and mining companies for development.
A further cause for concern for me as a Coloradan is Sen. Cory Gardner's support for David Bernhardt's nomination. Our state values public lands as much as any in the country, and Sen. Gardner should know better than to entrust the management of those lands to someone with Bernhardt's track record.
Before being confirmed in his new position, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist who counted those oil, gas, and mining companies among his clients. He spent years working to reduce protections for our public lands and the species that call them home so that corporations like these could pad their profits. In his new role, he has brought that same focus to his work. There are currently 20 former clients of David Bernhardt's with business before the Interior Department, and even in his role as acting secretary, he has made more than a dozen decisions to benefit those former clients. Under Bernhardt's watch, an additional 17 million acres of our nation's public lands have been opened for development to companies like these.
The scariest part about these connections to his past clients is that Americans won't even know how much influence these companies have over decision-making at the Interior Department, because Secretary Bernhardt has refused to keep a public calendar. By hiding enormous parts of his schedule from public view, it is impossible for us to tell who he is meeting with and listening to as he oversees our nation's system of public lands.
The new Interior Department budget that Bernhardt proposed has even more bad news for public land users in this country. This budget would slash funding for the Interior Department and would zero out the Land and Water Conservation Fund — one of our nation's most effective tools for cultivating outdoor spaces and protecting public lands. Proposing cuts such as these show that Bernhardt is not focused on the very reasons Americans have a Department of Interior and its included agencies.
David Bernhardt may have only been confirmed as our new Interior Secretary a month ago, but Americans should already have a clear sense of what he values and who he is. And for those of who have spent our lives protecting public lands and working to make them more accessible to the American people, David Bernhardt's values are scary.
Coloradans know the value of public lands and what they can do for a state's economy and quality of life, which is why it was so disappointing to see our own Sen. Cory Gardner vote in favor of David Bernhardt's confirmation. It is now imperative that Gardner work to provide real oversight of the Interior Department so that David Bernhardt's former clients and special interests are not put ahead of protecting our nation's public lands.
Scot McElveen is a retired National Park Service Chief Ranger, having served 25 years in 12 different units of the National Park System. He is a former President of the non-profit Association of National Park Rangers, and he has been a Colorado resident for the past 9 years, currently living in Cortez. He volunteers as an Assistant Boys' Basketball Coach for Montezuma-Cortez High School.