Despite all the excitement and praise that surrounded the Fiscal 2008 budget for the national park system, the actual, on-the-ground reality is that the parks still don't have enough money to properly operate and climb out of their maintenance backlog.
Earlier this year I noted that Virgin Islands National Park was trying to cope with a $22 million shortfall in maintenance funds. And just the other day I referred to one park that did not receive a sufficient increase in funding to even meet the required pay increases, let alone the increased cost of fuel. Beyond that, this park already is faced with a loss of 45 percent of its permanent workforce.
And I noted that the superintendent at Dinosaur National Monument is so pressed for budget dollars that she's suggested cutting two-thirds of the monument's paleontological staff. At Acadia National Park, the superintendent tells me that 20 percent of his staff, which is authorized at 100 bodies, is vacant.
Now comes word from Glacier National Park that while they will be able to bolster seasonal operations this year, the budget the park has been dealt is not enough to pay for cyclic maintenance work, such as trail upkeep, building repairs, and road work. That's the case even though the park's overall budget showed an increase from past years.
“Glacier National Park’s budget is almost $25 million and is comprised of two separate components -- base operating funding and special project funding," explains acting-Superintendent Stephanie Dubois. "This year, we have good news in regards to our base funding, but our special project funding is not as robust as in previous years. Nevertheless, the National Park Service, including Glacier National Park, has fared much better than many federal agencies.”
Glacier officials say their base operating budget for 2008 increased from $12,030,000 to $13,190,000, which is an almost 10 percent increase and fully covers pay increases for employees paid from base funding. The increase will also help with escalating utility and fuel costs for daily operations, they say.
Included within this operating budget is $624,975 from the Park Service’s Centennial Initiative. This is a permanent increase to the park’s operating budget that will provide for enhanced seasonal operations.
The Centennial Initiative funding corresponds to specific park requests and covers a variety of activities. The Division of Interpretation will restore two seasonal positions -- one in Two Medicine and one in Many Glacier, and will also add a new seasonal position. Facility Management will hire nine new seasonal positions and will extend several current seasonal positions. Visitor and Resource Protection will hire several new positions including: two biological technicians, one fire forestry technician, one permanent subject-to-furlough (STF) ranger, and three seasonal rangers. Additionally, 16 rangers will work longer seasons. Funding was also provided for a new volunteer coordinator.
Additionally, the budget will allow Glacier to boost its interpretation programs. These increases enable the park to make the education specialist a permanent STF position and to hire a permanent STF visual information specialist. The visual information specialist is also partially funded by the NPS Intermountain Region and will work with other parks to develop media for them. Further, five seasonal rangers were restored and an additional position will work a longer season.
“In practical terms, this base operating funding increase means that we will be able to hire more seasonal employees and visitors will see more rangers out in the park,” notes Superintendent Dubois. “We will begin a special watchable wildlife program in Many Glacier. We will be able to better protect the public and park resources through the extension and/or hiring of protection rangers. Our education program will be permanent, which will foster park stewardship among youth. We will continue connecting people to Glacier through the use of cutting-edge technology.”
That said, Glacier was not able to land $248,000 it wanted for trails work, $300,000 for building repairs, $161,000 for visitor use area maintenance, or $240,000 for road work. Lack of funding for these projects will result in an overall net loss of temporary employees in these areas unless funding is secured through other means, park officials say. Loss of special project positions will impact trail repair work as well as historic preservation, buildings, and campground maintenance activities. Further, there will be no road chip sealing.
Superintendent Dubois said the budget means park officials will have to develop some "creative solutions" to offset the shortfalls in cyclic funding.
“We have already begun discussions with the Glacier National Park Fund for possible targeted fund-raising in these areas,” she says. “We are confident that with our base increase and with the help of our partners, 2008 will be an excellent time to visit Glacier National Park.”