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New Budget Woes Beginning to Surface in Parks


Grtejax_lake    Get ready to start hearing about budget woes from national park officials. A story the other day in the Jackson Hole News & Guide highlighted the tight times facing Grand Teton National Park.
     Grand Teton Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott told the newspaper that while the public wants the park to install more than 40 miles of bike paths and implement a mass transit system, Congress just imposed a 1 percent across-the-board budget cut on government agencies. That cut comes on top of a maintenance backlog "guesstimated" at roughly $60 million at Grand Teton. And Scott says that backlog could jump to $100 million once a detailed audit is conducted.  The superintendent says her staff is performing an operations review in an effort to find areas where it can save money.
    The dire budget situation seems to be playing into the hands of those who would privatize our national parks. Already Grand Teton has turned over management of its campgrounds to outside concessionaires, and park positions are being lost to volunteers.
    While Grand Teton officials are looking forward to opening a new and improved visitor center at Moose, Scott told the Jackson newspaper that with the larger visitor center she hopes to lure more volunteers from the community to help run some of the park’s interpretive programs.


I think the privatization angle is on-target. The Bush administration has done the same with other Interior agencies, notably the Fish and Wildlife Service. A case study is the Pennsylvania Field Office in State College. The office has lost 5 biologist positions in five years and was forced to close its Pocono branch office. All this because of budget cuts. The administration gets its way in the administration of the ESA not by attempting to change the law or kill it outright, but by starving the agency charged with its implementation and administration. The FWS still throws some cash around, but it's in the form of grants etc. given to private property owners through the service's Partners with Wildlife program and other touchy-feely feel-good programs. Meanwhile, field offices, such as the one in State College, are starved by the budget. Pretty soon there are no bodies to watch over ESA enforcement.

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