If the across-the-board cuts legislated by Congress cannot be stopped before the self-imposed deadline of March 1, America’s national parks will be among the government organizations most deeply affected by the sequester.
Already smarting from the sting of a six percent cut in the National Park Service budget over the last two years, the parks will be forced to give up programs, visitor centers, and staff members—and some parks could face closure until the department’s financial situation improves.
“The sequester is now estimated to be as much as (another) six percent cut, though the impact would be greater since the cuts would need to be absorbed in the last seven months of the fiscal year,” the National Parks Conservation Association reports in a fact sheet on its website.
The 2013 cuts could lead to the closure of campgrounds and visitor centers, and a drastic reduction in the number of seasonal rangers—temporary staff members who “ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience,” the report continues.
“For example, at Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited unit of the park system, there are only 11 permanent interpretive staff for 14 visitor contact centers,” the NPCA explains. “During the busy summer season, there is extra dependence on seasonal rangers to be the information source for the American public. Without the help of this staff, it is very likely some of these contact facilities would have to close.”
Protection for fragile resources like petroglyphs, fossils, endangered plant species, and historical artifacts could be reduced as well, as parks eliminate law enforcement rangers who deter vandalism and looting of these resources. Some parks even could see an increase in the use of land within the parks to grow and traffic illegal drugs, as law enforcement rangers get pulled from remote areas.
Scientific work would likely be put on hold, suspending studies on endangered animal and plant species, air and water quality, and the effects of climate change. In addition, the park service’s $11 billion maintenance backlog would continue to grow as damaged visitor centers and park buildings, roads, trails, and other resources languish and deteriorate under another round of budget cuts.
“It is very possible there would be closures of certain areas at parks nationwide and some closed parks in order to reduce budgetary impacts on the parks that remain open,” the NPCA report says. “A six percent cut would be equivalent to closing almost 120 park units with the smallest budgets; (or) closing as many as 70 park units with the least visitation.”
Actually closing the smaller parks would not offer the best course of action, however. “Because smaller parks have such minor budgets and thus offer little opportunity for meaningful savings, it is very likely that larger and more popular parks would have to take a larger share of the burden,” the report explains.
National parks support more than $30 billion in spending in 49 states and five territories, the report concludes, so reducing visitation to the parks by cutting staff, programs, and the quality of the visitor experience could have a devastating impact in the parks’ popular entrance towns. “These developments could quickly lead to reduced visitation, harming the economies of gateway communities that rely on visitors for jobs and economic well-being, and possibly the jobs and other economic benefits associated with the outdoor gear and guiding industries,” the NPCA says.
Congress must pass legislation by March 1 to avoid $1.2 trillion in budget cuts affecting all departments of the federal government.
Massive tornadoes hit Oklahoma, killing at least 24 people.How you can help