The Obamas will
venture into the ancient labyrinth of caverns beneath the desert
at Carlsbad, New Mexico, on Friday before flying west to the
Sierra Nevada mountains and Yosemite, the country's oldest
national park and one of its most popular landmarks.
The president will help celebrate the centennial of the National
Park Service, and he is also expected to talk about his plan to
reduce climate-changing carbon emissions. He sees this as part
of the legacy of his time in office.
"Stronger storms, worsening droughts, increased flooding, and
longer wildfire seasons are putting our national parks and
natural treasures at risk," said Christy Goldfuss, a White House
adviser on environmental issues.
Warming temperatures in Yosemite have pushed the pika, "a kind
of rodent that looks like a cross between a rabbit and
chipmunk," to the brink of extinction, she said.
Obama's trip comes as visits to national parks surge due in part
to lower gasoline prices.
During his presidency, which comes to an end on Jan. 20, 2017,
Obama has added 20 sites to the national park system, 10 which
were approved by Congress. He used his own authority for the
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said national park visits in
2016 were on pace to beat last year's record of 307 million. All
those tourists contributed an estimated $300 billion to the
economy, supporting about 2 million jobs, she told reporters.
Those are numbers she wants Congress to remember as it considers
investments in public lands and addresses an $11.5 billion
backlog in parks maintenance projects.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who is the
chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee,
has been critical of investments given the backlog.
"To me, there is little point in conserving lands or allowing
the federal government to acquire even more land if we are not
going to take proper care of them," Murkowski told a hearing
late last year.
But Jewell said it was important to forge ahead. "Our nation's
public treasures come up and are available when they're
available, not necessarily when we have incremental funding for
them," she said.
(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington, D.C.;
Editing by Toni Reinhold)
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