National Parks, Forests Make Sequestration Cuts
Mount Rainier National Park's Ohanapecosh Visitor Center will not open this year due to budget constraints brought on by sequestration. Photo courtesy of MRNP.
As hikers, we like to be sequestered—high in a mountain pass, deep in a grove of cedars, in a flower-studded cirque, snug in our sleeping bags. Sadly, the verb sequester has taken on an altogether different meaning in the past year.
The threat of broad cuts to all federal programs was supposed to force Congress to the negotiating table to come up with a bipartisan mix of strategic cuts, policy changes and potential revenue. That didn’t happen, and the across-the-board cuts are the result.
Learn how the impacts of those cuts will impact visitors to Washington's national parks and national forests in 2013.
Tough decisions in Washington's national parks
Washington's national parks have had to make some difficult decisions this summer - and as the season progresses visitors will feel the impacts. A recent report by the Senate Natural Resources Committee found that the cuts have already or will:
- Close facilities or delay openings. At Mount Rainier National Park, the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center will not open this summer and the campground season will be two weeks shorter. Cougar Rock campground will be cut by six weeks (closing Sept. 29th).
- Reduce facility maintenance and garbage pick-up. Olympic National Park will not open all flush-toilet facilities this year and will not service restrooms and pick up trash as frequently. The Mora, Ozette, Graves Creek and Elwha Campgrounds will all see reduced maintenance.
- Host fewer educational programs. This has been specifically mentioned in conjunction with North Cascades National Park, but will likely be felt at all national parks.
- Reduce capacity to handle emergency or law enforcement issues. The report identified that Olympic National Park would have fewer resources to handle fires.
- Delay or defer park repairs or maintenance projects. Several roads are not being maintained to previous standards. The Deer Park Road in the Olympics will not be plowed this summer, delaying access to this area of the park. The road to Hurricane Ridge opened later, and will need to be closed at intervals for routine maintenance due to a lack of personnel.
- Reduce staffing. This is on top of a mandatory hiring freeze across the agency, though seasonal staffing has been allowed to move forward. North Cascades National Park has announced it will have fewer rangers to provide information and programs, which could include backcountry rangers. At Mount Rainier, there is a reduction in staff at the Carbon River Ranger Station.
Also worth noting: Mount Rainier National Park's shuttle system between Ashford and Paradise will not be operating in 2013. This will put a big strain on parking at Paradise, especially on weekends.
National Forests will be hit too
The effects of the cuts are not limited to national parks. Our region's national forests also have to reduce budgets by 5 percent, though the specifics have yet to be handed down to the individual forests. We do have an inkling, however. Forest Service Region 6, which is comprised of Oregon and Washington, reports that:
- Funding for Facilities Maintenance will be cut by 17%, going from $7.3 million to $4.8 million.
- Trails Funding will receive a 5% cut, which will reduce it to $5.1 million.
- Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness will be slashed by 5% to $18.6 million
Together, these programs fund the vast majority of Forest Service recreation and trail maintenance efforts--the kind of efforts that clear hiking trails and maintain trailheads. Moreover, the sequestered dollars come on top of years of cuts and consolidations that have razed the Forest Service’s budget.
The effects of sequestration may be delayed on many national forests, since the Federal budget cycle typically sees them spending down user fees carried over from the previous year, but as this fiscal year progresses and moves into the next, we could be facing a significant acceleration of the slow-motion crisis playing out on National Forests.
What can we do?
Call your member of Congress and your senators. Let them know how important our National Forests and Parks are to your family, to Washington’s economy and to our quality of life. Thank them for their past work on behalf of our federal public lands and let them know that you expect them to protect our public lands from Congressional inertia.
Contact our Senators
Contact your Representatives
Share your experience
As you hike this year, tell us if you come face-to-face with the squeeze on rangers and services on parks and forests.