Unless Congress averts a staggering budget "sequestration" early next year, the National Park System will be devastated by underfunding that could force the Park Service to shutter more than 100 parks, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
The NPCA drew that conclusion after the Obama administration on Friday released a report from the Office of Management and Budget that projected how the sequestration -- a slashing of government budgets aimed at reining in the federal deficit -- could impact government agencies. That report said the Park Service would have 8.2 percent of its annual budget, or $218 million, cut under sequestration if Congress doesn't act to more deliberately cut costs.
“Make no mistake that if Congress fails to prevent this cut, national parks and local communities who depend on their business will suffer,” NPCA President Tom Kiernan said in a release. “We are deeply concerned that this cut could lead to the closure of more than a hundred parks.”
According to the parks advocacy group, the park system already suffers "from an annual operations shortfall of $500 to $600 million, which means there are insufficient rangers and other staff to care for our national treasures and serve visitors. Park budgets have already been slashed over the last two years, and as Congress debates how to address the deficit, the report out today clearly indicates that our national heritage is at risk in the near future."
The OMB report projects that under sequestration the Park Service would have $183 million cut from its daily operations budget, $13 million from its construction budget, $5 million from its National Recreation and Preservation program, $8 million from Land Acquisition and State Assistance program, $5 million from its Historic Preservation program, and $4 million from other programs.
"NPCA’s analysis indicates that the cut of $183 million to the operation of national parks would very likely lead to the furloughing—or indefinite closure—of national parks," the group's release said. "A cut of this magnitude would also likely lead to the loss of many park rangers, particularly during the busy visiting season."
“Not only would the National Park Service have fewer rangers to educate visitors, plan visits, and respond to emergencies, but parks would not have the funding they need to adequately maintain hiking trails, protect wildlife, preserve historic buildings, or keep visitor centers and campgrounds open for visitors to enjoy,” said Mr. Kiernan.
NPCA has pointed out that the Park Service budget represents just 1/14th of 1 percent of the overall federal budget. At the same time, the group says, national parks "support $31 billion in private-sector spending and 258,000 jobs each year."
“Our national parks are at a crossroads. Making the right choice to invest in national parks will not only protect our national park legacy, but benefit local economies and communities nationwide,” the NPCA president said.