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Public lands: 2014 budget eyes slight boost for national parks

Overall park service budget has dropped 20 percent in past decade

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Badlands National Park. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As national parks across the country struggling with sequester-driven budget cuts, there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. President Barack Obama’s proposed 2014 budget requests $2.6 billion for the agency, with a net programmatic increase of about $26.1 million over 2012, plus $30.5 million to cover fixed cost increases.

The budget includes a total of $2.5 billion for National Park Service programs that support the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, including $2.3 billion for national park operations; a total increase of $48.4 million over 2012.

Key increases include $5.2 million to control exotic and invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels, $2.0 million to enhance sustainable and accessible infrastructure across the national park system, and $1.0 million to foster the engagement of youth in the great outdoors. These increases are partially offset by programmatic decreases to park operations and related programs totaling $20.6 million.

“The National Park Service is experiencing deep impacts from the sequester and other continued reductions. This year will be the most challenging in some time for national park superintendents who will have fewer rangers and smaller budgets to manage each park from Yellowstone to Acadia,” said Theresa Pierno, VP of the National Parks Conservation Association, a parks advocacy group.

“Funding the operations of the National Park Service needs to be more of a priority than it has been to date. We’re pleased that the President recognizes the need to reverse the mindless sequester, but it will take more than that recognition to address the reality facing national parks,” Pierno said.

“In addition to operating the national park system, the President’s budget supports our efforts to preserve natural resources and catch the imagination of today’s youth, who are the national park stewards of tomorrow,” said National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis.

Visits to parks, trails, rivers and historic sites managed by the park service totaled 287 million in 2012.

The president’s budget request includes $5.5 million to acquire Civil War battlefield lands within national parks. The budget proposes $40.0 million for the State Conservation Grants program, a $5.2 million program decrease compared to 2012. This program provides matching grants to States and through States to local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities.

The budget also proposes $160.0 million for the Construction account, a total increase of $4.6 million above 2012. This includes $83.1 million for line-item construction projects, a $5.3 million increase from 2012. It provides funding for the highest priority construction projects critical to visitor and employee health and safety and environmental restoration.

Pierno pointed out that the park service will be playing catch-up in the coming years.

“The sequester has already cut more than $130 million from the National Park Service budget, forcing places like Yellowstone, Acadia, Independence Hall, and Cape Cod National Seashore to delay seasonal openings, close visitor centers, picnic areas, and campgrounds, and eliminate ranger positions that are critical to protecting endangered species and historic buildings, as well as greeting park visitors and school groups. Further cuts will only impair the national park experience,” she said, reminding Congress that parks are a huge economic driver that generate revenues for local communities.

“National parks draw international tourists and are economic engines that support more than $30 billion in spending and more than a quarter million jobs,” she said. “Yet they suffer from an annual operating shortfall exceeding half a billion dollars and a maintenance backlog of many billions more. And in today’s dollars, the Park Service budget has now declined by more than 20 percent over the last decade.

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One Response

  1. The President’s proposed meager budget increase for the National Park Service does little to offset years of fiscal neglect nor will it offset the damage being done in 2013 due to the sequester. Remember, the grand and glorious increase occurs at the expense of other Park Service programs. Stealing a portion of the increase from one pot of money, park operations, and increasing another accompanied by unbridled Administration and Congressional spending equates to failed domestic fiscal policies and little real gain for the Park Service or any agency for that matter. Accompanying the sequester, a permanent reduction to Park Service budget, are tangible and intangible losses. Tangible losses are easy o spot: delays openings; reduced services; fewer seasonal hires; increased maintenance backlogs,… etc. Intangibles include a marked drop in National Park Service morale and sharp rise in departures from Federal service. Well, at least that can be measured and those numbers have increased markedly. Then there is the moral of those who hoped to work seasonally for the Park Service. You know, high school and college students relying on income derived from working in National Parks so they can support their families or education. I wonder how they will feel when there aren’t enough jobs to go around. It may take many years to heal the intangible wounds but because we can’t assign numbers or measure intangibles no one takes notice. Shame on the Administration and shame on Congress. You have failed your country and consequently its people. I cringe when I think about the 2014 pork-filled federal budget. Without sufficient cuts and deficit reductions the current sequester percentages to federal agencies will grow again. Who knows, maybe we will see park closures.

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