National Parks Conservation Association says federal budget cuts threaten services, maintenance and economies of gateway communities
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — National Parks in the U.S. could take a huge hit in the coming years if the Congressional Super Committee fails and mandatory across-the-board cuts are made to the federal budget.
Failure to agree on a new budget would result in across-the-board reductions of about 9 percent, amounting to a $231 million cut to the National Park Service — devastating to many national parks, visitors, and the communities and businesses that depend on them, according to Craig Obey, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association.
The parks advocacy group has released a new report that outlines the potential impacts, finding that additional budget cuts could jeopardize visitor services at national parks across the country.
“Of course we need to fix our deficit problems. But cutting national parks budgets will have about as much impact on the deficit as a bucket full of rocks would have on filling the Grand Canyon, and it would cost jobs, hurt communities, and mar our national heritage,” said Obey.
The report — Made in America: Investing in National Parks for Our Heritage and Our Economy — also finds that investing in national parks not only protects our national heritage, but is critical to supporting the livelihood of businesses and communities across the country.
“If the Super Committee process fails there will be real consequences for our national parks, jobs, visitors, and communities across the country,” said Craig Obey, NPCA senior vice president of government affairs. “The federal deficit debate should be about smart budgeting that strengthens communities, produces jobs, and protects the heritage that binds us as a national community.”
In the past two years, park visitation has been higher than it has been in a decade—yet national parks suffer from an annual operations shortfall of $500-$600 million, and receive $325 million less per year than necessary to keep an $11 billion maintenance backlog from getting worse. Further cuts could mean fewer rangers to greet visitors, reduced visitor center hours, shortened campground seasons, closure of entrance stations and backcountry trails, fewer educational programs, and reduced law enforcement patrols to safeguard America’s heritage.
The overall appropriation for the National Park Service is nearly $400 million (or 13 percent) less than it was 10 years ago. In Fiscal Year 2011, park service funding was cut about $140 million, including an $11.5 million reduction for operations.
“In Los Alamos, we’re blessed to be close to Bandelier National Monument. For us, it’s a critical part of our economic well-being as well as our quality of life,” said Kevin Holsapple, executive director for the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce in New Mexico. “I’m sure we’re not alone in being supportive of the idea of keeping parks and park operations healthy. It keeps this area a place where people want to live, and it keeps people coming back to invest in our community.”
According to a recent NPCA study, every federal dollar invested in national parks generates at least four dollars of economic value to the public. National parks support $13.3 billion of direct local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs. Cuts to park operations, construction and land acquisition could mean direct job losses and impair the places that American families rely on as affordable vacation destinations each year.
“As a two-term mayor for a county that is a gateway to one of the most visited national parks in the system, the Great Smoky Mountains, it was abundantly clear to me how critically important national parks are to local economies such as ours,” said Iliff McMahan, former Mayor of Cocke County in Tennessee. “In a challenging economy, we must maintain a capital investment in the future of our parks; it’s just smart business. And we owe it to our children to protect that legacy.”
Recent polling shows that 85 percent of voters surveyed favor giving national parks enough funding so they are fully restored and ready to serve the public for the next 100 years, as evidenced by the more than 100,000 people who recently signed a petition calling on Congress to protect park budgets.