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Updated: National Park Service Says Looming Sequestration Will Impact Visitors, Shorten Hours Of Operations In Park System


Editor's note: This updates with reaction from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Failure by Congress and the White House to avert a budget sequestration by March 1 will force the National Park Service to reduce visitor services, shorten hours of operation, and possibly even close areas to the public, according to Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

Across the country, units of the National Park System are being asked to figure out how to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars, more in some cases, from their current budget allocations. Yellowstone National Park shoulders the heaviest burden in terms of pure dollars, as it's being asked to outline cuts totaling $1.75 million from its FY 2013 budget of $35 million, according to documents sent from the director's office.

The system-wide planning exercise is aimed at cutting 5 percent from the Park Service current budget.

"It is critical that the NPS is able to provide specific and tangible results of an across-the-board 5 percent cut," Director Jarvis said in the directive (attached below), which was obtained by the Traveler. "We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons, and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources, and government assets.

"Parks must be specific in their descriptions and include the number of visitors affected and an indication of the effect on nearby communities and businesses," the director continued.

To help attain the 5 percent cut, parks were directed to immediately halt hiring permanent employees (though hires already in progress may continue). While they may continue planning for seasonal workforces, they were directed not to extend any offers. Non-essential travel is to be halted, overtime suspended, acquisitions of supplies and equipment are to be reduced, and on-staff employees who are subject to furlough should have their furlough periods extended to "the maximum length allowed..."

Director Jarvis did ask parks to schedule staff furloughs in ways that would "avoid compromising the health and safety of visitors or the protection of resources and assets."

At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, officials said the cuts, if enacted, would be devastating.

“This is very troubling and it has the potential to turn already budget–strapped national parks into ghost towns,” warned Maureen Finnerty, a former superintendent of Everglades National Park who chairs the Coalition's executive council. “This would be devastating for America's national parks, for the nearly 300 million Americans who visit them, and for the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources the parks were established to protect.

"Additionally there will be steep impacts to the private sector - the hundreds of concession businesses operating inside of the parks, the stores operated by cooperating associations in park visitor centers, not to mention the economies of the communities adjacent to parks and entire states that depend so heavily on both tourism and other spending done by the parks.”

Joan Anzelmo, a long-tenured Park Service veteran who was superintendent of Colorado National Monument before retiring last year, said the proposed cuts couldn't come at a worst time "with Americans set to return to national parks in big numbers in the spring and summer."

"We sympathize with current National Park staffers, who are feeling an acute sense of chaos building as they run in circles trying to figure out so late in the fiscal year how to meet these harsh cuts, protect park resources and serve the public," said Ms. Anzelmo. "This is no way to run America’s National Park System."

The dollar amounts parks were being asked to identify in cuts ranged from $1,000 from the $29,000 budget for the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail to the $1.75 million at Yellowstone.

Some other examples of cuts across the park system include:

* $1 million from Grand Canyon National Park (FY13 budget of $21.3 million)

* $689,000 from Denali National Park ($13.8 million)

* $1.25 million from Gateway National Recreation Area ($25.28 million)

* $944,000 from Great Smoky Mountains National Park ($19 million)

* $477,000 from Cape Hatteras National Seashore ($9.7 million)

* $1.4 million from Yosemite National Park ($29 million)

* $316,000 from Mammoth Cave National Park ($6.4 million)

* $95,000 from Arches National Park ($1.9 million)

* $1.6 million from the National Mall and Memorial Parks ($32.3 million)

* $622,000 from Shenandoah National Park ($12.5 million)

* $390,000 from Acadia National Park ($7.9 million)

* $76,000 from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail ($1.54 million)

Parks were to begin reporting their projected cuts to the Park Service's central budget office in Washington, D.C., by January 31, with the rest reporting by February 11.

At the Natural Resources Defense Council, officials said exacting such cuts from the Park Service would do little to solve the country's fiscal mess.

"Spending on these health and natural resources programs make up just a little more than 1 percent of the federal budget. So cutting them more deeply—because they’ve already taken a hit in past budget cuts —will hardly dent the deficit, but it will damage popular programs that benefit all Americans," the group said earlier this month.

Additionally, the group has said the sequestration could harm the National Park System by:

* Leading to closures of campgrounds and visitor centers;

* Cutting the ranks of rangers, and so impacting visitor safety;

* Lengthen emergency response times in the parks;

* Lead ot an increase of vandalism and looting;

* Decrease or delay the monitoring of endangered species and other scientific work;

* Leading many visitors to the parks, "including international tourists who spend their money in businesses that provide thousands of jobs," to go somewhere else on vacations.

With the possibility of FY 2014 having a potential 8 percent cut, things look really grim for the 2014 visitor season in the parks, and none too rosy for this year.


Good post willj

Agree, vigourously!

Rather than shut down services and programs, why not assign all staff including those normally chained to desks, phones, and computers, a few days per month to assist with visitor contact and backcountry patrol? This might also contribute to an enhanced staff morale.


As others have pointed out, this is mostly about making a big show of being underfunded. The NPS could cut 5% from its budget without having a significant impact on visitor services or the rest of its mission. It could probably do it while improving operations overall. The problem is, it can't do it at a moment's notice while under the gun from congress. The only thing it can do short term is not bring back a bunch of its seasonal workforce, which is a bit like a fat man cutting off his arms and legs to lose weight. Since budget problems aren't exactly a surprise, the NPS needs to immediately start what it should have been doing all along. Get rid of under performing or nonperforming employees. In addition to personally being a waste of money, they are a huge drain on morale for the rest of the workforce. Stop encouraging employees to move between parks every few years, and stop paying for their moves. People who stay in a park long term are usually more effective workers, and the paid moves are just indefensible. Evaluate what programs and staff are really needed, with a bias toward retaining the field programs and reducing the back office. The tendency in a bureaucracy is for the upper ranks to be built up over time, and periodically they need to be cleaned out. In a given amount of money, increase the percentage defined as an operating budget, and reduce the amount doled out as project funds. Projects are commonly overestimated, then used to pay for basic operations. In addition to being short sighted and unethical, there are substantial unacknowledged costs associated with this. A huge amount of staff time is spent chasing and administering projects that are really just operations under a different name. The amount of clerk positions in NPS maintenance has leaped in recent years, usually at the expense of people doing the actual work. Also, project funds can't be used to hire permanent employees, so there are a lot of temporary and term people out there who are doing the jobs of permanents. Nobody who hasn't worked in government would believe how much pointless administrative effort on the part of supervisors and HR staff goes into just keeping those people around year after year. In short, a lot of money could be saved, but it will take major changes in how the NPS does business. Those changes seem unlikely unless they are imposed from outside the agency. This is all pretty obvious to people who see it up close, but nothing seems to change.

I don't see that its the LE Rangers that is the issue. SMNP has a $19 million budget - that is $52,000 a day. LE could only be a minimal fraction of that. I have walked the AT in SMNP end to end twice and never saw a ranger of any kind nor any facilities that would require that kind of expenditure. It would be interesting to know what the the money is spent on.

Now for those of you familiar with the park - I am likely doing the AT again this year but was thinking of doing a few side hikes this time (permits permitting). Where should I go that has reasonable access from/to the AT? I did a "pure" hike once before so I don't mind missing a few steps on the AT itself.

And don't just think of 'gun and a badge' when you talk about LE rangers. I know that LE rangers here [I live in/near/around a park] have done cross training in river rescue, paramedic, cross-border training with their Canadian equivalents, and other things.

Get the local county cops to handle it? Our small park has two LE rangers. The local municipality - which covers as far as the Canadian border up in the mountain pass as well as the town - has three cops including the chief. Back each other up - yes. Take over for each other - not so much.

A 5% cut across the board starts drawing blood when you get to the little guys like us, and it is a friend or neighbor who is bleeding.

IIRC, the army once stationed in Yosemite until the NPS was created. My guess is that savings, to be achieved, will have to spread. Salaries might be reduced, people laid off, etc.

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