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National Park Service plans for sequestration cuts

Mar. 12, 2013 - 02:46PM   |  
By CHUCK RAASCH   |   Comments
At Yellowstone National Park, where 3.4 million people visited last year, snow plowing to open the park has already been delayed by two weeks in budget-cutting efforts. (Dan Ennis / Staff)


National park supervisors are preparing to open roads later, close visitor centers, furlough park police and hire fewer seasonal workers to meet the 5 percent sequestration budget cuts under mandated by Congress and President Obama.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a memo Friday stating that about 1,000 fewer seasonal workers will be hired this year, down from 10,000 last year. In a memo to Park Service employees, he said furloughs should be expected among park police, and that a $12 billion backlog in park maintenance will worsen.

There were an estimated 279 million visitors to national parks in 2011, the last year available.

For many park visitors, sequestration-related cuts are already noticeable. But at some parks, the 5 percent reduction will be less obvious right away. Some examples:

The National Capital Region, which oversees parks and Civil War battlefields in and around Washington, D.C., is contemplating everything from less lawn mowing and garbage pickup in Rock Creek Park to limiting hours of, or closing altogether, the visitor center at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, according to Park Service spokeswoman Jennifer Mummart. She said the region may hire only half the 400 to 450 seasonal employees it normally does.

At the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, Superintendent George Price said park overseers are contemplating closing the Province Lands Visitor Center, which was visited by 260,000 tourists during the summer last year. The number of seasonal hires will probably be reduced by 22 from the 150-200 normally hired, Price said.

At Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the Park Service is contemplating closing three of five visitor centers, and cutting seasonal hires from 180 last year to about 150 this year. “Intense management meetings” are underway to “nail down what we will have to do without,” Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

At Yellowstone National Park, where 3.4 million people visited last year, snow plowing that is necessary to open the park has already been delayed by two weeks, until next Monday. Park officials hope that more snow will melt to save the $10,000 a day it costs to plow the vast park’s roads and entrances. “Our goal is to have minimal impacts on visitors,” Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said. But he said that park officials will have to hire fewer seasonal workers, which will mean “fewer maintenance staff, fewer law enforcement rangers, fewer interpretive rangers.”

In Alaska, Denali National Park Superintendent Don Striker, who has been on the job less than two months, said he expects to meet his 5 percent cuts by freezing hiring. He is not filling positions for park historian and head of information technology and a half-dozen in maintenance but said that others, like search and rescue personnel, won’t be affected. But Striker said going without IT support can only last so long, and that “you can delay cleaning out gutter for while, but if you do it too long, you lose the roof.”

“We are going to be OK in the short term but less OK as the months stack up,” he said.

Striker said he is more worried about the prospects of a government shutdown if Congress and Obama can’t come to an agreement by March 27, when a temporary budget agreement is set to expire. Late March is when he and superintendents in many parks hire seasonal workers, and Striker said uncertainty then could be far more difficult than dealing with 5 percent cuts today.

Jarvis instituted a travel ban for the Park Service for March, and said a hiring freeze would remain on about 900 unfilled permanent positions. The NPS has about 15,000 permanent employees.

“Every activity will be affected” by the 5 percent cuts, he wrote, from controlling invasive species to police work.

The Park Service’s $2.86 billion annual budget has remained relatively flat since 2008.

Chuck Raasch reports for USA Today.

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