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Updated: President's FY13 $2.6 Billion Budget Request For National Park Service Carries $1 Million Cut


Editor's note: This provides additional details on the budget proposal, a look at previous funding, and adds Park Service Director Jarvis's reaction. Additional updates will be made as reaction from other groups is available.

On its face, President Obama's $2.6 billion FY13 budget proposed for the National Park Service appears to keep funding for the agency basically flat from last year, with just a $1 million decline. But the budget continues some disturbing trends for the agency as it struggles to manage a growing park system with hefty needs.

Beneath the cover of that $2.6 billion budget proposal are cuts and shuffling of funds that will enrich some programs at the expense of others. Overall, according to the Park Service, there needs to be "$67.2 million in strategic reductions in park and program operations, construction, and heritage partnership programs."

Exactly where those cuts might fall won't be known until at least later this week when the Interior Department releases its more detailed "green book" on the budget proposal. Still, some cuts might take months to identify by the Park Service.

The budget also proposes to cut more than 200 full-time positions from the Park Service, lowering its national staff to 21,689.

In addressing the proposal, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis focused not on the cuts that will have to be made, but on the economic might of the National Park System and the need to sustain the system in no small part for the good of the economy.

“In these tough economic times we recognize the value the 397 national parks provide all Americans – as places of introspection and recreation and as economic engines that create jobs and help our gateway communities thrive,” said the director in a prepared statement.

"In 2010, national park visitors – 281 million of them – were responsible for a $31 billion impact on the nation’s economy. From motel rooms to gas for the car and souvenirs, visitor spending supported more than 258,400 American jobs.”

But a glance at the past decade of Park Service budgets shows disconcerting declines in areas key to the health of the park system.

The president's proposal requests just $131.1 million for construction projects -- projects such as the new exhibit hall at Dinosaur National Monument, the restoration of the Bodie Island Lighthouse at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, road repairs, dam safety work. That's down from the $824 million spent during FY09, a figure that ballooned under the American Recovery and Reinvestment act. But it's also down from the $155.4 million appropriated for this work in FY12, and from the $356 million spent on construction back in FY04.

And while the president's budget reflects a $13.5 million increase in funding for "operation of the National Park System," and says the overall appropriation will allow the agency to "continue to provide enriching experiences and enjoyment for all visitors...", the budget also calls for a $1.5 million cut in "Visitor Services."

Exactly how that cut would be applied under the proposal won't be known until the green book arrives. But Jeff Olson, a spokesman in the Park Service's Washington, D.C., headquarters, provided some insights into where the cuts might come from.

"We're talking about reduced hours during the lower visitation months. Fewer hours that a visitor center is open, fewer hours that a campground might be opened,” said Mr. Olson. "We have to spread $21.6 million (of the $67.2 million in cuts) around to come out of park base operations. Resource stewardship -- that's natural resources and science. Visitor services -- it's interpretation and education, campfire programs, ranger walks and talks."

Funding for Heritage Partnership Programs that work with National Heritage Areas was cut nearly in half, to $9.3 million from $17.4 million.

Too, the budget cites the ever-present reliance the Park Service places on visitor fees to make ends meet. For the coming fiscal year, the agency expects to take in $172 million from these fees, and intends to obligate $172.9 million for projects throughout the National Park System.

"In 2011, 47 percent of NPS recreation fee obligations addressed asset repair and maintenance projects, 19 percent addressed interpretation and visitor services, and 10 percent addressed habitat restoration," the Park Service budget narrative stated. "The remaining 24 percent of recreation fee obligations were spent on operational activities such as law enforcement, cost of collecting fees, and visitor reservation services."


This joke budget isn't worth NPT's time.  Senator Reid won't even allow it to be voted on.  More deception as usual. 

Gee, guess we know how NPS rates!  $1 million proposed cut for NPS.  $800 million increase to Arab Spring.

More than just headlines... thank you for at least considering looking at the details once they are released.  $800 billion to foster democracy in the arib countries is a great use of money, and cannot be compared in any way to the money spent on the parks.  It is apples and staples different.
The federal budget is a total disaster. Many will suffer while the feds learn to spend within their means.  I have been impressed (at least on the surface) at how the NPS spends its money.  When the Cuyahoga Valley Rec Area was renamed National Park, rather than replacing all of the signs, they simply used stickers, and other editing methods to make the change.  Many federal agencies would take a small change like that as an excuse to spend a ton of money on all new signs, cars, and even buildings simply because they had the old name on them.
And as pointed out earlier, its all about politics, and this thing will not see the light of day in its current form.  There are way too many intentional political land mines included.  The President is baiting the Republicans to block it, and they will.

One thing that the NPS cannot cut is law enforcement. The NPS is so understaffed LE wise it is pathetic. With less LE you have no way of keeping drugs, poachers, resource thieves, and general crimes out of parks. In my opinion you can cut all interp rangers and bring on volunteers to do their job as long as all LE Rangers are saved!

If only many (LE) were a little less arrogant and Gestapo like, not all, just some.  The Parks are the peoples', not their own personal turf.  A learning curve that comes with maturity.

Anon at 5:25 pm--

What a narrow point of view! I suspect that the vast majority of protection rangers would not even subscribe to your point of view. It is the interpreters, after all, who help people understand the value of the resources contained within parks, something that prevents resource crimes in parks equally as much as do those who are charged with enforcing the laws within these areas. In fact, interpretation is one of the most important tools in reducing illegal activity within the park system. You ought to be glad they are around instead of carelessly saying they could be replaced by volunteers.


I'm finding a lot that I can agree with here today:).  Things are looking up:)!  
On the budget deal, how does Baseline Budgeting come into play on this?  Is the proposed $1 Mill reduction in reality $1 Mill off the proposed increase or $1 Mill less than was budgeted last year?  Did the $700 in Stymulus money NPS received above what was budgeted in '09 raise the Baseline for 2010?  This stuff is never simple with lots of room to hide the realities.  Just wondering...

You gotta be kidding me Rick. When was the last time a interp ranger stopped someone from poaching an elk, growing marijuana, or being drunk in one of our parks?  Interp rangers do have a good role in the system, but volunteer or stipend employees can do the EXACT same thing. Look at campground hosts and how many agencies have gones to them. Instead of paying an hourly employee to essentially run a campground you can now have somebody (typically retirees) run the campground and in return they get a free campsite and a monthly stipend. Sounds like something the interp programs need to start doing!

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