The impending mandated federal budget cuts, also known as sequestration, are a disaster for US national parks, wildlife, and for those of us who love the outdoors.
Sequestration will reduce the nnumber of Park Rangers, reduce visitor access to the rim of the Grand Canyon, significantly delay the spring opening of key portions of Yellowstone and Yosemite, reduce emergency response help for drivers in the Great Smoky Mountains, limit access to the beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore, and impair the experiences in many other ways for millions of visitors at America’s national parks.
Also, the local and regional businesses which depend on national parks will take huge hits as visitors are either turned away or skip visits due to the impact of the mindless sequestration budget cuts.
Sequestration will result in a much reduced workforce, total shutdowns of certain national park areas or for extended period of times, closing visitor centers and services, restrictions on availability of campgrounds, visitor centers, comfort stations, and trail and other backcountry access. Also, the ability to respond to emergencies such as wildifires will be sharply reduced, creating potential emergencies for human and animals.k near national parks don’t count.”
Here are some alarming numbers from the National Park Service and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees –
* Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho) – will delay spring road opening operations inside the park and to the west, south, east, and northeast entrances. Savings would come from a combination of reduced or delayed seasonal hiring, extended unpaid furloughs for employees, and reduced operating expenses including fuel, equipment and maintenance. Access from the west (from US 20 & 191 West Yellowstone, MT), from the south (US 287/89, Jackson, WY thru Grand Teton National Park) and the east (US 20, Cody, WY) would be delayed 2-3 weeks. Access from the northeast via the Chief Joseph Highway (near Cody, WY) and Beartooth Highway (near Red Lodge, MT) — two popular scenic drives — would be delayed 3-4 weeks. Visitor access to Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake would be delayed 2-3 weeks. These delays will affect over 78,000 visitors, reduce park fee revenue by more than $150,000 and have significant economic impacts to concessioners and gateway communities.
* Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) – will delay opening the East and West Rim Drives and reduce hours of operation at the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center. This will immediately affect more than 250,000 visitors, along with the local Native American tribes which depend on tourist dollars. Grand Canyon receives approximately five million visitors annually.
* Yosemite National Park (California) – will delay the opening of the Tioga and Glacier Point roads by as much as four weeks due to limitations on snow removal resulting from reduced staffing which will impact thousands of visitors. In 2011, Yosemite National Park had a near record of just over four million visitors.
* Glacier National Park in MT will delay opening the Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks, the only road which provides access to the entire park. In previous instances, closures of Going-to-the-Sun Road have resulted in financial distress for surrounding communities and concessions well into millions in lost revenues.
* Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming) – will close the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, and the Flagg Ranch Visitor Contact Station, for the summer season affecting more than 300,000 visitors. Additionally, the park’s cooperating association, the Grand Teton Association will lose $225,000 in sales revenue as a result of the closures.
* Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee) – will close five campgrounds and picnic areas, affecting more than 54,000 visitors. Additionally, the reduction in staff will result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses to activities such as accidents, rockslides, ice, and hazardous tree removal for more than 35,000 vehicles per day on several heavily travelled routes in the Cades Cove District as well as the thoroughfares between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and between Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC.
* Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachussetts) – will close the Province Lands Visitor Center for the season, affecting more than 260,000 visitors. Additionally, visitor access to large sections of the Great Beach will be reduced and restricted in order to protect the nesting shorebirds. The nesting birds require daily monitoring, which a reduced staff could not provide.
* Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee) – a reduction in seasonal employees will cause closure of 25 comfort stations one day per week, affecting more than 200,000 visitors.
* Mount Rainier National Park (Washington) – will close the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center due to inability to staff and maintain it, affecting upwards of 85,000 visitors.
* Denali National Park (Arkansas) -will have seasonal staff shortages resulting in delayed plowing operations of Denali’s spring road, postponing the opening of the Eielson Visitor Center. This would impact over 3,500 visitors per day and would significantly affect revenue for local businesses.
CNPSR obtained and made public a National Park Service (NPS) memo and related budget documents on January 31, 2013, revealing that planning is already underway for sequestration-related budget cuts that would sharply reduce the ranks of Park Rangers and also result in deep cuts in park hours and a host of other key services that park visitors expect to receive.
According to preliminary CNPSR estimates, a 5 percent cut under sequestration to the $2.2 billion that would be remaining in the final seven months of the NPS budget would require slashing $110 million. The total budget for all non-permanent park staffs is only $150 million. If the pain of the cuts was spread across non-permanent and permanent employees in parks, it would require cutting thousands of jobs or furloughing everyone for more than a month – roughly four and a half weeks.
Nationwide, national parks support local economies in a significant way, generating more than $30 billion in private sector spending and 258,000 private sector jobs each year. Many parks are located in rural areas that are very dependent on these expenditures to maintain a healthy economy. CNPSR pointed to these numbers as a noteworthy and positive impact on the national economy from an agency (NPS) that receives just 1/15th of 1 percent of the total federal budget (and declining).
Sequestration is pound wise and penny foolish.