Overall park service budget has dropped 20 percent in past decade
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.