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Cuts To Grand Teton National Park's Staff Will Delay Emergency Response, Close Some Facilities


Budget cuts will translate into longer emergency response time by Grand Teton National Park rangers, and some closed facilities, this summer. Photo by QT Luong via

Climbers, backcountry travelers, and even front-country campers at Grand Teton National Park will face longer response times if they get in trouble this year as a result of federal budget cuts, according to the park superintendent.

Rangers that patrol the Tetons, Jackson Lake, and the Snake River will be stretched a bit thin by the budget sequestration, potentially leaving visitors to fend for themselves for a while if they are hurt or lost.

“We’re trying to minimize the impacts on visitor services these cuts would have. However, there is no way to take this reduction without reducing the amount of services we provide," Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said Monday during a telephone call with reporters.

All park visitors could notice a reduction in services, as the need to trim $700,000 from Grand Teton's budget is leading to reduced seasonal ranger staffing, closed visitor centers, and closure of some areas of the park, she said.

“We know there will be delays in responding to search and rescue, as well as medical emergencies and law enforcement," the superintendent said. "Our responsibilities I take very seriously on both employee and visitor safety. We are trying to maintain those functions to the degree we can. I just think that we will have delays in pulling together if there’s a major search and rescue, being able to pull all the resources we need.”

Grand Teton averages 70-75 search-and-rescue incidents a year, ranging from aiding visitors who twist an ankle and looking for lost children to rescuing climbers from the mountains.

Across the National Park System park managers are cutting here and there to bring their budgets in line with the across-the-board cuts agreed upon by the Congress and the White House. Parks such as Yellowstone and Acadia are pushing their spring opening dates back a month, some campgrounds will remain closed in places like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and backcountry toilets might not get pumped out.

Multiplying the problems created by the sequestration is the fact that those cuts are heaped on a general budget shrinkage, Superintendent Gibson pointed out.

“These cuts come on top of a flat budget for the past four fiscal years, and when adjusted for inflation our budget has actually declined by approximiately 8 percent over that time period. That number is prior to sequestration taking effect," she said.

A bit more than half of the $700,000, some $372,000, in cuts are being made by reducing the ranks of seasonal rangers by 26. While the park hires approximately 180 seasonal rangers each year, only about 90 of those are paid for through Grand Teton's base operating budget. The other 90 are funded through grants targeted at specific projects, such as removing invasive plants or maintaining trails.

"We depend on our seasonals to operate the parks during the summer, staffing the visitor centers, road patrol, managing wildlife jams, firefighting, search-and-rescue and emergency response, and custodial, such as cleaning restrooms," the superintendent explained.

As a result of fewer seasonal rangers, hours of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at Moose, the Colter Bay Visitor Center, and the Jenny Lake Visitor Center will most likely be reduced this year, she said. However, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center and the Flagg Ranch Information Station will be closed entirely, as will the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

"We will also not be able to provide ranger-led interpretive or education programs as we have in the past. We will provide limited programs at visitor centers ... although we will not provide the typical array of programs, such as the campfire talks and the majority of ranger-led walks," said Superintendent Gibson.

Areas that will be closed include the Spalding Bay, Two Ocean Lake, and Schwabacher's Landing areas, as the park lacks the staff to maintain the restrooms and trash at those sites, she said. Eight dispersed-site campgrounds along the Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller Parkway also will not open this summer, the superintendent added.

While the park is delaying its snow removal operations on the Teton Park Road by about two weeks, until April 1, snowfall was not great this past winter and the park staff should be able to open the road on schedule on May 1, she said. "Other roads will be allowed to naturally melt out this spring. These include Moose-Wilson, Antelope Flats, Signal Mountain Summit, and Death Canyon," the superintendent added.

"This has not been an easy exercise for any park manager. To try and figure out, in the middle of March, how you'll run a park in full summer operations (with reduced staff and funding)," Superintendent Gibson said. "We’ve had to actually withdraw offers to seasonals that were already made, as we realized what cuts we would have to make when we got our numbers and what the percentages were."


I wounder how many Park Rangers could be kept on for the price of this.


Has anyone found the actual text of Section 256? It is actually part of the Graham-Hollings bill passed in 1985. Unfortunately, does not have full text of legislation dating back that far.

Thanks for that view mtn. Has to be one of the most assinine rulings made in quite sime time.

"Reusing soiled diapers." Gotta love that one.

It reminds me of the old truism that "Politicians, like diapers, need to be changed frequently. And for the same reasons."

Term limits and really tough election finance reform anyone?

Regarding comments made about lack of flexibility in taking the cuts:

Excerpted from the OMB memo (M-13-06) issued March 1, 2013 implementing the sequester.

“…Agencies shall apply the same percentage reduction to all programs, projects, and activities within a budget account, as required by section 256(k)(2) of BBEDCA, 2 U.S.C. 906(k)(2). …”

The OMB memo can be found here:

In the NPS, park operations are funded by the account “Operation of the National Park System.” Within this account, each individual park (or park complex - where there is shared administration), is classified as an individual “program” so each park must be hit by sequester and each project and activity inside that park must also be impacted.

For example, part of the NPS structure looks like this:



Activity: each individual park

Projects inside Program ‘Resource Stewardship”:

Natural Resource Stewardship (spread to each park – activity must be cut – in each park)

Cultural Resources Stewardship (spread to each park – activity must be cut – in each park)


Projects inside Program ‘Visitor Services”:

Interpretation and Education (spread to each park- activity must be cut – in each park)

Commercial Services (spread to each park – activity must be cut – in each park)

There is no ability to shift funds between accounts. For example, NPS cannot shift funding from another account, for example, the Construction (and Major Maintenance) account to the Operations account.

The OMB report on sequestration can be found at this link (the NPS table is found on page 32 of 70):

One way to think of it is as if your household expenses were in separate accounts. You have one account for groceries, one for clothing & diapers, and one for major household improvements. You may be really hungry and want to buy more food, or perhaps you need more diapers, but those accounts have been sequestered (cut). Meanwhile, although you have money in your also sequestered improvements account for a new kitchen, you cannot transfer any of that funding to buy food or diapers. So you start construction on your new kitchen while you are hungry and reusing soiled diapers.

Yes it is stupid, hence the political miscalculation that it was too stupid to actually be implemented.

Like Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE said, there are too many riding in the cart and not enough pulling.

And that is what the talking points of the right say, regardless of the fact that Boehner and Ryan have recently both reluctantly admitted that there is no current debt crisis. The apparancy of one is what the right has attempted to paint Obama with, despite the fact that federal spending has risen at a lower rate under Obama than any President since Eisenhower. The biggest financial challenge Obama has had has been to admit to the debt that Bush ran up for his wars and try to start dealing with it. Bush never did.

When one wing of Congress states baldly that their only priority is to be obstructionist and to kick the President out of office, they attempt that for four years, they fail, and now into the second four years of that President they continue to do the same - it is impossible to blame the President unless one is a partisan of that obstructionist party. It might sound reasonable to say this stuff happens under both parties, but it just hasn't proven to be true.

The inaction and partisanship of Congress is a big part of the fix we're in, of course. But there is plenty of blame outside of Congress.

Admiral Mullin, our Chief of Staff said in 2012 that he thought that our debt was the largest threat to our national security. I believe him. I also believe that it constrains all we do as a nation.

Our debt limits the ability for our economy to grow it's way out of the alley we're in. It limits what citizens can expect in their working lives and retirement for themselves and their families. It limits what the NPS can do with existing and future parks and operations.

If we dealt with our debt, many of our other problems would solve themselves.

In our system of government we are led by our President. It's been a lot of years since we've had one that provided the leadership for an issue that threatened us as our debt now does. Mr. Obama alone is not to blame for the fix we're in. Republican and Democrat presidents have ignored and contributed to the problem.

Until we have a president who unites the country to deal with the waste we all see, the programs that we all know don't work, with the legislative impediments to reasonable commerce and inititive we will continue down this road.

Government by a single party is not good for the nation. We've seen the results of that in recent years during two periods under two Presidents of different parties. It's essential that the business of the nation get a long and public airing in Congress. Like they say, it's how the sausage is made...

It's even more important that our President set the agenda and the example for the nation and for Congress. What we are missing is leadership at the highest level.

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