Blog Post Tom Kiernan Feb 1, 2013

Proof Positive: Our National Parks Are in Trouble

For the past year, NPCA has been sounding the alarm about the threats to our national parks in the face of looming across-the-board federal budget cuts that could occur March 1 if lawmakers fail to reach agreement. Now, we have the clearest indications yet that those threats are very real—and are putting both our national heritage and our local economies at risk.

In a January 25th memorandum (PDF)—released to the media yesterday by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees—National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis instructed regional Park Service directors to prepare to slash already depleted budgets by an additional 5 percent service-wide if Congress cannot agree to a sequester deal. Coming on the heels of 6 percent in cuts over the last two years, this reduction would be a blow to an already beleaguered Park Service.

The guidance, which includes instructions and templates for sequestration reduction planning (PDF), reveals the severity of the hit on the Park Service—including the potential elimination of seasonal personnel and the scheduling and extension of furloughs of permanent employees. The memorandum states:

“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.”

If these cuts go into effect, it appears they will harm every one of the 398 parks and monuments in the system as well as park rangers, tourism-dependent businesses and communities, and the millions of Americans who rely on national parks for affordable vacations. Our national parks—and the American people who count on the preservation of their rich natural, cultural and historical heritage—deserve better.

At a time when more than 95% of Americans support the federal government’s protection of the parks—and 9 out 10 voters want to see no further cuts to national park funding—the failure to reach a deficit-reduction agreement that cancels this mindless across-the-board cut is jeopardizing our heritage and throwing into question the planning of millions of families who expect their parks to be open for business as usual. Our national parks represent just 1/14th of 1 percent of the federal budget, yet they sustain a quarter-million private sector jobs and generate $31 billion from tourism and recreation alone. Every dollar invested in the National Park Service generates about ten dollars in economic activity—yet in today’s dollars, the Park Service budget has already declined by 15 percent over the last decade.

Decision makers must act now to come up with a common-sense plan that addresses the debt in a thoughtful, holistic way. At this critical time, we cannot lose sight of the forest for the trees. We need our national parks not only for their majesty and symbolism, but also for the billions of dollars they generate for local economies.

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