It looks like sequestration, across-the-board cuts to federal spending, will hit the country Friday. For the National Park Service, that means taking five percent, or $134 million, from its budget. While that doesn't seem like a big number to some, the cut comes mid-year (October 1 is the federal government's fiscal year), meaning it may actually feel like a 10 percent cut as most parks head into their busy summer season.
Should the sequester happen, each of Park Service's 398 units were tasked with developing budget cut plans, something NPS Director Jon Jarvis in a memo this week described as "a grim reality of how we will have to reduce the level of direct services we provide to the American people in parks and communities across the country."
Of course, the sequestration deadline is happening the very week the Park Service released its annual economic impact study. The peer-reviewed report, put together by Michigan State University, found that visitors generated $30.1 billion in economic activity and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide in 2011. More than one-third of that spending -- $13 billion -- went into communities within 60 miles of a park, the report found. In California, home to more national parks than any other state, the numbers crunch down to this: 35 million visitors, $1.4 billion spent, and 21,500 jobs.
How sequestration affects this year's economic impact is yet to be seen, but as SoCal Wanderer discovered in discussions with over 10 of the biggest parks in the state, it's likely there will be some. What follows is a detailing of each of those parks' planning in the case of the budget cut. Take note, however: Even if the sequester does occur, the following may change because solutions can be fluid.
If the sequester takes effect Friday -- and all signs seem to point to that -- the National Park Service, like most all federal agencies, will face severe cuts. With such major change comes words from leadership. Over the weekend, Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the Department of the Interior (where National Parks are housed), sent out his memo priming staff for what is likely to come.
Then on Tuesday, it was National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis' turn, no easy task for a 37-year veteran of the agency. KCET's SoCal Wanderer has obtained his memo and presents it in full below.
In the months leading up to the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover last August, news often carried a certain earthling angle: "Death Valley used as stand-in for Martian landscape," read a Christian Science Monitor headline; "NASA scientist William Dietrich compares patterns created by river fans found in California's Death Valley to similar fans found on Mars," explained a PBS Newshour blog post; "The Dumont Dunes near Death Valley are a popular playground for off-road vehicle fans," noted our very own Chris Clarke when he visited Scarecrow, Curiosity's twin.
It's not the first time something like this has happened on public land in California and, unfortunately, probably not the last. In July, it was in Golden Gate National Recreation Area; now it's rangers at Sequoia National Forest that are asking for the public's help. Last week, a large pile of debris was discovered over a steep hillside off a scenic overlook on Sierra Way, east of Kernville.
Thousands of furloughed employees, threats to the federal firefighting workforce, and possible closures at parks. All that and more was detailed in a memo obtained by SoCal Wanderer and sent to 76,000 federal employees under Secretary Ken Salazar this weekend (read it in full below).
At issue is sequestration, unpopular across-the-board cuts that were postponed during last-minute fiscal cliff negotiations earlier this year. If congress does not act this week, they will go into effect Friday.
If Beltway Insiders' talk of the sequester has made your eyes glaze over so far, here's something that may make you open those eyes wide: This postponed and renamed Son of The Fiscal Cliff, which goes into effect March 1 if no action is taken to prevent it, may mean at least $7 million in cuts to California's National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas, and Historic Sites. That could mean no seasonal ranger hires, closed campgrounds, and limited visitor center hours.
It could also mean you have to drive a few extra hours to get to the other side of the Sierra Nevada until the snow melts: the cuts would mean no budget for Yosemite National Park to plow Route 120 over Tioga Pass.
Aficionados of starry night skies already know that remote spots in Southern California are excellent places to escape nighttime glare. On Wednesday, the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) made that a little bit more official, by announcing it had designated Death Valley National Park a "Gold Tier" International Dark Sky Park.
Vandalism of the Barker Dam has forced the management of Joshua Tree National Park to close off access to the popular area until further notice. The dam, built in 1900 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has seen an explosion of graffiti since around October, says Jan Keswick, the Park's Branch Chief of Cultural Resources.
Maybe you're twenty miles off the pavement, hiking through a narrow desert canyon. Or maybe, two martinis into your aunt's cocktail party, you take a wrong turn through her succulent garden. Whether they find you in the wilderness or in the botanic garden, cactus spines can hurt -- and the little hairy kind called glochids can actually pose a risk to your health if you aren't careful. It's always best to prevent coming up against cactus spines, but if that fails here's how to repair the damage.
There are two basic kinds of cactus spines. There are the stout kind, possessed by most cacti, that are best treated the same way you'd treat a splinter, and there are the aforementioned glochids, which require a whole different method of extraction.
Unless the California desert gets a bit more rains in March, 2013's spring desert bloom may be a disappointing one.
According to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve earlier this week, so little rain has fallen so far this winter that the Reserve's usual carpet of annual wildflowers "hasn't even sprouted yet." Without significant March rain, the four-fifths of an inch the Reserve has received since October just won't be enough to spur the awe-inspiring fields of California poppies, along with goldfields and owls' clover, lupines and other stunning annuals, that attract thousands of visitors a day in season.