Across the country national parks are in trouble: roads are not being plowed, park employees are getting furloughed, seasonal workers are not being hired, campgrounds are closed and opening dates are being pushed back.
All because of the sequester.
Most of the Park Service’s $2.9 billion budget is for permanent spending such as staff salaries, fuel, utilities and rent payments. Superintendents can use about 10 percent of their budgets on discretionary spending for things ranging from interpretive programs to trail repair, and they are losing half of that to the 5 percent cuts.
It amounts to a bite of a paltry $160 million. However, for the Park Service, that’s a big deal.
“There’s no fat left to trim in the Park Service budget,” said John Garder of the nonprofit parks advocacy group the National Park Conservation Association. “In the scope of a year of federal spending, these cuts would be permanently damaging and save 15 minutes of spending.”
For years Congress has been cutting funding to the National Park Service, and in today’s dollars it is 15 percent less than a decade ago, said Garder, who is the nonprofit’s budget and appropriations legislative representative in Washington, D.C.
Park Spending Amounts To One-fourteenth Of One Percent Of The Federal Budget
That’s right: the 398 National Parks use just one fourteenth of one percent of the government’s budget. And now that budget has been slashed by 5 percent.
This is misguided and wrong. America’s National Parks are a national treasure, and they deserve more respect than this. And in the face of our growing urbanization, they are vital as places to get out, explore nature and allow people to just be in the moment, away from the rush-rush of city life.
Yellowstone is the oldest National Park, created by Congress in 1872, and is also one of my favorites: I’ve spent many hours hiking and backpacking in this gorgeous park, where you just have to step a quarter of a mile away from the road to be completely alone.
How is the sequester affecting this park?
From The Washington Post:
The giant yellow snowplows that wake Yellowstone from its winter slumber every March are idled, waiting for the sun to make up for federal budget cuts that are forcing the park to open late for peak season.
Mandatory cuts kicked in three days before the plows were to start clearing snow and ice from 300 roads at altitudes that reach 11,000 feet. Faced with an order from Washington to slice $1.8 million from his budget, the park superintendent, Dan Wenk, had considered his options.
He could slash the ranks of the 430 seasonal rangers, guides and other employees who help keep Yellowstone running every summer. But it would mean fewer visitor centers open, fewer walking tours and a risk to public safety.
He could halt the bison-management program — but the program is required under a court settlement. He could close the park for two weeks before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, but that would mean shutting out 267,000 visitors.
Wenk decided to keep the seasonals, just fewer of them, and bring them on two weeks later. He has frozen all permanent hires, delayed the snowplows, and is opening most entrances two weeks late.
In case you’ve never been there, here’s a glimpse of this gorgeous park:
Wide-Ranging Impacts On Other National Parks
Grand Canyon: the opening of the East and West rim drives is delayed, and the hours of operation at the main visitor center have been cut back.
Rocky Mountain: ranger hikes and talks are cut back. Federal services like maintaining campsites and fighting catastrophic wildfires will be severely reduced, and very few seasonal workers will be hired for the summer.
Gettysburg: 20 percent of student education programs will be eliminated this spring.
Richmond National Battlefield Park: along with other Virginia parks, Richmond will close some visitor centers for a second day each week and leave a park education coordinator position unfilled, possibly halving the number of children for whom the park can provide educational programming.
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Parks: 11 positions, or about 25 percent of its workforce, are either already vacant or soon will be, and won’t be filled.
Petrified Forest: five positions have been left vacant ahead of time.
Wind Cave: the one campground in the park will be closed, since there’s no one to monitor it.
Great Smoky: three campgrounds, two picnic areas, a horse camp and several access roads will be closed. In addition, several park facilities will open later than usual.
Can anyone explain this madness? We have our priorities wrong – we are talking about one fourteenth of one percent of the national budget. Will that really make a difference?
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