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Updated: President's FY13 $2.6 Billion Budget Request For National Park Service Carries $1 Million Cut


Editor's note: This provides additional details on the budget proposal, a look at previous funding, and adds Park Service Director Jarvis's reaction. Additional updates will be made as reaction from other groups is available.

On its face, President Obama's $2.6 billion FY13 budget proposed for the National Park Service appears to keep funding for the agency basically flat from last year, with just a $1 million decline. But the budget continues some disturbing trends for the agency as it struggles to manage a growing park system with hefty needs.

Beneath the cover of that $2.6 billion budget proposal are cuts and shuffling of funds that will enrich some programs at the expense of others. Overall, according to the Park Service, there needs to be "$67.2 million in strategic reductions in park and program operations, construction, and heritage partnership programs."

Exactly where those cuts might fall won't be known until at least later this week when the Interior Department releases its more detailed "green book" on the budget proposal. Still, some cuts might take months to identify by the Park Service.

The budget also proposes to cut more than 200 full-time positions from the Park Service, lowering its national staff to 21,689.

In addressing the proposal, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis focused not on the cuts that will have to be made, but on the economic might of the National Park System and the need to sustain the system in no small part for the good of the economy.

“In these tough economic times we recognize the value the 397 national parks provide all Americans – as places of introspection and recreation and as economic engines that create jobs and help our gateway communities thrive,” said the director in a prepared statement.

"In 2010, national park visitors – 281 million of them – were responsible for a $31 billion impact on the nation’s economy. From motel rooms to gas for the car and souvenirs, visitor spending supported more than 258,400 American jobs.”

But a glance at the past decade of Park Service budgets shows disconcerting declines in areas key to the health of the park system.

The president's proposal requests just $131.1 million for construction projects -- projects such as the new exhibit hall at Dinosaur National Monument, the restoration of the Bodie Island Lighthouse at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, road repairs, dam safety work. That's down from the $824 million spent during FY09, a figure that ballooned under the American Recovery and Reinvestment act. But it's also down from the $155.4 million appropriated for this work in FY12, and from the $356 million spent on construction back in FY04.

And while the president's budget reflects a $13.5 million increase in funding for "operation of the National Park System," and says the overall appropriation will allow the agency to "continue to provide enriching experiences and enjoyment for all visitors...", the budget also calls for a $1.5 million cut in "Visitor Services."

Exactly how that cut would be applied under the proposal won't be known until the green book arrives. But Jeff Olson, a spokesman in the Park Service's Washington, D.C., headquarters, provided some insights into where the cuts might come from.

"We're talking about reduced hours during the lower visitation months. Fewer hours that a visitor center is open, fewer hours that a campground might be opened,” said Mr. Olson. "We have to spread $21.6 million (of the $67.2 million in cuts) around to come out of park base operations. Resource stewardship -- that's natural resources and science. Visitor services -- it's interpretation and education, campfire programs, ranger walks and talks."

Funding for Heritage Partnership Programs that work with National Heritage Areas was cut nearly in half, to $9.3 million from $17.4 million.

Too, the budget cites the ever-present reliance the Park Service places on visitor fees to make ends meet. For the coming fiscal year, the agency expects to take in $172 million from these fees, and intends to obligate $172.9 million for projects throughout the National Park System.

"In 2011, 47 percent of NPS recreation fee obligations addressed asset repair and maintenance projects, 19 percent addressed interpretation and visitor services, and 10 percent addressed habitat restoration," the Park Service budget narrative stated. "The remaining 24 percent of recreation fee obligations were spent on operational activities such as law enforcement, cost of collecting fees, and visitor reservation services."


Am finding common ground with these examples of efforts to form meaningful contacts with guests that are amazingly rewarding to both personel and guests. Always filled me up to be a part of something significant and often transformational for a guest. A way to keep the job fresh and meaningful for me also.

opps Kurt, forgot to submit my name on the anonymous comment, not that it was any profound post on my part. Also enjoyed the Old Ranger comment,he is right on in my view along with Yount's Mule.

I never met a LE Ranger I thought was like the gestapo! I've always found them to be very professional. Person who said that must have violated park rules.

Early in my NPS law enforcement career, I had the good fortune to work for a man that required all his LE staff to develop and present at least one interpretive program per month. Part of the reason for this was to provide park LE staff with visitor contacts that were not adversarial, as a reminder that not all park visitors were thoughtless violators of regulations. Another part of the program was to have each of the LE staff develop a better understanding of the significance of that particular NPS area so that they could better educate the public about that significance. We conducted these programs wearing our full LE gear, which also provided the public to see our LE staff as something other than "jack booted federal thugs". Wearing the LE gear also allowed folks to ask questions about LE programs that they would not have asked if they had just seen us on patrol in the area.

For those LE staff in the NPS that don't feel the need for them to do public education, the field level folks anyway, need to review their benchmark position descriptions. Yes, they contain all the stuff necessary for 6(c) LE retirement coverage, but they also line out three main objectives of NPS law enforcement positions. Those objectives are 1) Resource Protection 2) Resource Education 3) Public Use Management

Objective 2 Resource Education means the LE rangers are supposed to "Educate, interpret and inform visitors of the significance and rarity of park resources..." Taken straight from the PD. And, to paraphrase, conduct preventative education to the public inorder to gain compliance by helping the public develop an understanding of the importance of park resources. This requires actually talking to visitors and park neighbors and developing relationships in the area and becoming an advocate for the park and the parks resources. It's not just about writing citations, making arrests and doing secret squirel stuff. All that stuff can be fun, but the most full-filling moments, for me any way, have been those when I have actually been able to have someone look at National Parks and NPS staff in a more positive thoughtful way.

I would like to thank Yount's Mule for his perceptive post. As a Law Enforcement Ranger myself for 35 years, now retired, it took me awhile to learn that education is the most important tool we have in most (not all), of our contacts. But once I figured it out, the greatest reward working in parks for me, was meeting the park visitors. Every job in the organization has an important function, it is just a matter of reaching out to all employees, assisting when you can, even if that means picking up some litter, or learning to identify some birds or plants. A LE Rangers job should include visitor contact and education whenever the opportunity presents itself. For those who do not learn that overall mission of the NPS, well, they will find their work less rewarding and successful, at least that was my experience. It is truly disconcerting to see the erosion of the educational function both in the NPS and the nation at large. As Yount's Mule points out, that is the very basis of our democratic system.

Sorry, Heidi, but LE rangers are as likely to be gestapo-like -- or at least southern deputy sheriff-like -- as not. I've personally witnessed two such incidents, heard horror stories from reliable sources about others, and read the news stories about pepper spray/arrests in Pt Reyes for no good reason (and no punishment to the LE rangers involved) and the recent taser attack on a dog owner in the GGNRA.

I left the California State Park Ranger corps when the gun nuts came in, and glad I did.

If a park needs policing, then Park Police should be installed. Rangers should range.

Right on, Rick.

Ranger Don

Interpretation is the best method of peace-keeping in the parks. LE Rangers too often create more problems than they solve.

Ranger Don

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