Sequester May Mean Huge Cuts For California's National Parks

Tioga Road may stay closed a lot later this year due to budget stalemating | Photo: Jude Robinson/Flickr/Creative Commons License

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.

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According to data provided to KCET by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, $110 million in total nationwide cuts to the National Park Service budget would be required under the terms of the "sequester," Beltway jargon for the across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending that Congress agreed to postpone until March 1 in the absence of an agreement to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Of that $110 million in cuts, about $7.6 million would be taken from the budgets of the 26 National Park units in California. These cuts would range from more than $1.4 million carved out of Yosemite National Park's 2013 budget, to a $9,000 reduction in the budget of the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in Concord, whose budget is already tight enough that the memorial is open by reservation only.

By default, this chart lists sequester cuts in ascending order. Click on headings to toggle each column by its value.

One factor that makes the cuts all the more drastic: the NPS's Fiscal Year 2013 started in October 2012, meaning the parks have already spent almost a quarter of their budget for FY13. In order to make cuts of 5 percent for the whole fiscal year, cuts in month-to-month budgets will have to be closer to 7 percent from March through October 2013.

The National Park Service is being tight-lipped about these cuts' likely effects on the ground. Park Service spokesperson Jeffrey Olson did offer a statement to KCET, saying in part:

The public should be prepared for reduced hours and services provided by National Park Service employees at 398 national parks, historic sites, monuments and memorials, parkways, trails, preserves and reserves, seashores and lakeshores, recreation areas and national battlefields.

Visitors would see reduced hours of operation for visitor centers, shorter seasons, and possibly closing of camping, hiking and other recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, and historic, cultural and natural resources.

The reductions would limit the National Park Service's ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for interpretive programs, maintenance, law enforcement and other visitor services as we are preparing for the busy summer season.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees is suggesting more specific scenarios, including a possible month-long delay in opening the Tioga and Glacier Point roads in Yosemite National Park this spring to save money on plowing.

The Coalition also made public a January 25 memo from National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis to NPS Regional, Associate and Assistant Directors in which Jarvis says to delay hiring for permanent and seasonal positions and examine the budget impacts of furloughing staff. Jarvis also directed his troops to assess the economic impact of possible reduced services and hours on gateway communities.

That impact may be considerable. According to a report released Wednesday by the Outdoor Industry Association, Outdoor Recreation generates $85.4 billion in consumer spending in California, which in turn generates $6.7 billion in state and local tax revenue. 732,000 Californians work in jobs created directly by outdoor recreation. Though there are plenty of places to play outdoors in California not managed by the National Park Service, it's hard to deny that the state's National Park Service holdings, from Yosemite to Joshua Tree to Redwood to the Santa Monica Mountains, generate a huge amount of tourism from out of state. Local communities rely on "multiplier effects" of dollars spent by National Park visitors. Cutting back on that multiplier could mean serious hardship for those communities.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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Thanks for this great article about the impact of budget cuts on National Parks in California. Cuts would impact jobs, justice, and health. See these related articles at KCET: If You Want Jobs and Justice, Keep Our National Parks Open, goo.gl/OLovi, Bringing the San Gabriel Mountains Closer to the People, goo.gl/j7xSO, and Santa Monica Mountains for All: Expanding the Largest Urban National Park for Green Justice, goo.gl/RJU3h.