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How Looming Sequestration Would Impact National Parks

Posted by Susan Elderkin at Feb 20, 2013 01:25 PM |

The country's latest fiscal stand-off, known widely as "sequestration," is set to commence on March 1, locking in five percent across-the-board budget cuts. Leaked documents from the National Park Service provide context to the issue by demonstrating the broad and adverse impacts that these cuts would cause, including $1.6 million from Washington's three national parks.

The country's latest fiscal stand-off, known widely as "sequestration," is set to commence on March 1. Should Congress and President Obama fail to come to a fiscal agreement, one of the primary consequences would be five percent across-the-board budget cuts. Leaked documents from the National Park Service demonstrate the broad and adverse impacts that these cuts would cause, including more than $1.6 million in cuts from Washington's three national parks. Only two options avoid sequestration -- agreement around a solution to the problem or passage of a continuing resolution that maintains funding levels at current (or perhaps slightly lower) rates.

In a memo dated January 25, 2013, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis directed each park unit to make a sequestration plan that reduces its budget by five percent by February 11. New details from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees emerged today about what that would mean at some of the largest national parks, including Mount Rainier National Park.

In the meantime, the Park Service has instituted a hiring freeze. This comes at a time when hiring decisions are usually being made for seasonal staff who handle the massive influx of summer crowds. At some parks, it is possible that no seasonal staff would be hired should these cuts become mandatory.

What would a five percent mean for Washington’s three national parks?

  • Mount Rainier National Park, would need to carve $604,000 from a $12.1 million budget. At minimum, this could include the closure of the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center this year.
  • Olympic National Park would have to cut $639,000 from a $12.8 million budget.
  • North Cascades National Park would face a $365,000 reduction from a 7.3 million budget.

Each of these parks rely heavily on seasonal personnel during the busy summer months. Eliminating these positions would have a serious effect on hours of operation, wilderness rangers, preservation, maintenance and much, much more. These cuts could also have a chilling effect on local economies.

The National Park Service also operates six other sites in Washington that would face five percent cuts: San Juan National Historic Preserve, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, Fort Vancouver and the Whitman Mission National Historic Sites and the Klondike Gold Rush Museum.

And, of course, these are examples from just one agency. Sequestration would impact the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies in similar ways, and we can assume that they are having similar discussions that have not been made public. Let’s hope that our elected officials come to their senses and come to a budget agreement before March 1.

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