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Updated: National Park Service Says Looming Sequestration Will Impact Visitors, Shorten Hours Of Operations In Park System


Editor's note: This updates with reaction from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Failure by Congress and the White House to avert a budget sequestration by March 1 will force the National Park Service to reduce visitor services, shorten hours of operation, and possibly even close areas to the public, according to Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

Across the country, units of the National Park System are being asked to figure out how to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars, more in some cases, from their current budget allocations. Yellowstone National Park shoulders the heaviest burden in terms of pure dollars, as it's being asked to outline cuts totaling $1.75 million from its FY 2013 budget of $35 million, according to documents sent from the director's office.

The system-wide planning exercise is aimed at cutting 5 percent from the Park Service current budget.

"It is critical that the NPS is able to provide specific and tangible results of an across-the-board 5 percent cut," Director Jarvis said in the directive (attached below), which was obtained by the Traveler. "We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons, and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources, and government assets.

"Parks must be specific in their descriptions and include the number of visitors affected and an indication of the effect on nearby communities and businesses," the director continued.

To help attain the 5 percent cut, parks were directed to immediately halt hiring permanent employees (though hires already in progress may continue). While they may continue planning for seasonal workforces, they were directed not to extend any offers. Non-essential travel is to be halted, overtime suspended, acquisitions of supplies and equipment are to be reduced, and on-staff employees who are subject to furlough should have their furlough periods extended to "the maximum length allowed..."

Director Jarvis did ask parks to schedule staff furloughs in ways that would "avoid compromising the health and safety of visitors or the protection of resources and assets."

At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, officials said the cuts, if enacted, would be devastating.

“This is very troubling and it has the potential to turn already budget–strapped national parks into ghost towns,” warned Maureen Finnerty, a former superintendent of Everglades National Park who chairs the Coalition's executive council. “This would be devastating for America's national parks, for the nearly 300 million Americans who visit them, and for the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources the parks were established to protect.

"Additionally there will be steep impacts to the private sector - the hundreds of concession businesses operating inside of the parks, the stores operated by cooperating associations in park visitor centers, not to mention the economies of the communities adjacent to parks and entire states that depend so heavily on both tourism and other spending done by the parks.”

Joan Anzelmo, a long-tenured Park Service veteran who was superintendent of Colorado National Monument before retiring last year, said the proposed cuts couldn't come at a worst time "with Americans set to return to national parks in big numbers in the spring and summer."

"We sympathize with current National Park staffers, who are feeling an acute sense of chaos building as they run in circles trying to figure out so late in the fiscal year how to meet these harsh cuts, protect park resources and serve the public," said Ms. Anzelmo. "This is no way to run America’s National Park System."

The dollar amounts parks were being asked to identify in cuts ranged from $1,000 from the $29,000 budget for the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail to the $1.75 million at Yellowstone.

Some other examples of cuts across the park system include:

* $1 million from Grand Canyon National Park (FY13 budget of $21.3 million)

* $689,000 from Denali National Park ($13.8 million)

* $1.25 million from Gateway National Recreation Area ($25.28 million)

* $944,000 from Great Smoky Mountains National Park ($19 million)

* $477,000 from Cape Hatteras National Seashore ($9.7 million)

* $1.4 million from Yosemite National Park ($29 million)

* $316,000 from Mammoth Cave National Park ($6.4 million)

* $95,000 from Arches National Park ($1.9 million)

* $1.6 million from the National Mall and Memorial Parks ($32.3 million)

* $622,000 from Shenandoah National Park ($12.5 million)

* $390,000 from Acadia National Park ($7.9 million)

* $76,000 from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail ($1.54 million)

Parks were to begin reporting their projected cuts to the Park Service's central budget office in Washington, D.C., by January 31, with the rest reporting by February 11.

At the Natural Resources Defense Council, officials said exacting such cuts from the Park Service would do little to solve the country's fiscal mess.

"Spending on these health and natural resources programs make up just a little more than 1 percent of the federal budget. So cutting them more deeply—because they’ve already taken a hit in past budget cuts —will hardly dent the deficit, but it will damage popular programs that benefit all Americans," the group said earlier this month.

Additionally, the group has said the sequestration could harm the National Park System by:

* Leading to closures of campgrounds and visitor centers;

* Cutting the ranks of rangers, and so impacting visitor safety;

* Lengthen emergency response times in the parks;

* Lead ot an increase of vandalism and looting;

* Decrease or delay the monitoring of endangered species and other scientific work;

* Leading many visitors to the parks, "including international tourists who spend their money in businesses that provide thousands of jobs," to go somewhere else on vacations.

With the possibility of FY 2014 having a potential 8 percent cut, things look really grim for the 2014 visitor season in the parks, and none too rosy for this year.


Jeesh! I suppose it's easier for Congress to cut from something they don't really place that highly on their priority list, rather than all the other pork in which I'm sure *they* have a vested interest (grumble).

Thats because there are far more voters receiving government handouts, on welfare, food stamps, unemployment and paying no taxes then there are voters visiting the National Parks.

these cuts are the result of the sequester... suggested by the white house, passed by Congress last year. Across the board cuts to government instead of specifc targeted reductions because Congress has no spine. I think around 8 percent but of course, Dept of Defense cuts are more, 'cause Democrats control the Senate and the presidency.

I doubt many Americans would disagree that government in general, including Defense, could easily sustain a 5% reduction in expenditures, with little reduction of service to taxpayers.

the rubber hits the road in determining which cuts in specific programs can be made. Everyone in government protects his rice bowl like a tiger protects its cubs...

It's tempting to poke fun at this recurring dog-and-pony show. We had a similar thing in California in recent years. The state parks department announced that looming budget cuts would have Draconian effects and the California advocacy organizations fell in line with language similar to the organizations here ("devastating," "harsh," and leading to the loss of thousands of private-sector park-dependent jobs).

This is what agencies and their supporters do to protect an agency's turf: find the most unpleasant theoretical ways to meet a reduced budget target and predict the worst. It's what happened in California. Entirely predictable, insulting of the taxpayers' intelligence, and ultimately boring.

But enough of that, because I acknowledge that sufficiently severe budget cuts could lessen the quality of the national parks. I question whether a 5% NPS cut is likely to do that. But in case it is, here are my practical suggestions (some of which I've offered before on these pages):

1. Get rid of most of the rangers' guns. What's the percentage of armed rangers? When this site last discussed this issue, in response to a similar dire warning about budget cuts a few months ago, no one was sure. But suppose it's 20%. Those rangers need extra training, extra certifications, and extra equipment, including the not-cheap guns themselves. The presence of those guns can make a park feel oppressive, with a paramilitary haze about it. Official statistics show almost zero violent crime in the national parks, so there seems to be no serious need for the armed staff. Let preserves in Africa with a poaching problem have armed rangers; except for perhaps a few in Yosemite and a few other parks, they're a needless expense in this country.

2. Ask Congress to allow the individual park staff to do more of the planning and reduce the multilevel and enormously unwieldy NEPA, Wilderness Act, Organic Act, etc., etc., planning processes. Has anyone looked at a no-environmental-impact Environmental Assessment lately? For the most trivial change, like building a trail, it can run 100 pages; for anything of moderate importance, it can turn into something the weight of a phone book. No one reads this stuff except maybe some policy wonk at the NPCA or Wilderness Society, so as to be able to poke holes in it and demand yet more review. Think of what that costs.

My 2¢.

I say cut from the adipose, and the NPS in it's entirety is such a tiny sliver of a piece of the federal budget that declaring it as 'fat' only exposes the prejudices of the declarer.

This is fantastic news for Yellowstone. Instead of spending millions every few years on an EIS that proves snowmobiles don't belong in Yellowstone, and then ignoring the results, the NPS can eliminate snowmobiling. This will save millions on the cost of all the EIS's, plus millions per year on the cost of snowmobiling. You could still provide easy public access to the park's interior with snowcoaches, but keeping the roads open for snowcoaches would be far less expensive than keeping to roads open for snowmobiles. And you wouldn't need nearly as many rangers to ride herd on snowmobilers. Spring plowing would be much easier and less costly if the roads weren't pounded down by/for snowmobilers. The money saved could provide better access and service for ordinary people who use cars every day for work, etc., rather than rich, fat-cat snowmobilers who can afford such an expensive, gas-sucking toy.

Nice strawman Rick. Who called the NPS "fat"?

Interestingly, quite a few economists are recommending not cutting too much now to keep the economy going, and cut more when the economy recovers. Ecbuck, do you count corporate tax loopholes as handouts too? :)

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