Supercommittee failure could mean trouble for national parks

Posted: Nov 28, 2011

Written by

PHIL TAYLOR, Greenwire
Road closed

The congressional supercommittee's failure to broker a bipartisan deficit reduction deal this week could have a major impact on funding for national parks, threatening visitor services and potentially closing some parks, a conservation group warned.

Barring action from Congress, the Budget Control Act signed into law this summer will soon trigger across-the-board cuts to agency budgets, slashing funding at the National Park Service by roughly 9 percent, said the National Parks Conservation Association.

The cuts could prompt park superintendents to slash the number of seasonal rangers, reduce visitor center hours and eliminate safety or interpretive services, said John Garder, NPCA's budget and appropriations legislative representative.

Some parks may also be forced to close, Garder said.

"That 9 percent would be a very frightening prospect for the Park Service," he said.

Garder this summer said national parks funding is somewhat improved from a few years ago but is still $600 million short of what is needed to meet visitors' services and protect resources.

"Mindless cuts to our national parks won't resolve our fiscal crisis, but they will threaten the parks, as well as harm communities and businesses that depend on them," said Craig Obey, the association's vice president for government affairs, who cited an NPCA-commissioned report that found every dollar invested in parks earns at least $4 in economic value to the public.

The Park Service is not alone among land management agencies whose budgets would suffer as a result of mandatory discretionary cuts set to begin in January 2013, said Alan Rowsome, director of conservation funding for the Wilderness Society.

"A 9 percent cut doesn't sound on its face like this would cause total chaos," Rowsome said. "But the reality is [agencies are] already doing more with less."

While a 9 percent cut to Interior Department agencies including NPS, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service may keep the lights on, so to speak, it could mean a reduction in law enforcement, educational services and funding to respond to events like hurricanes or wildfires, he said.

Lands agencies may also struggle to fund science programs that gauge the impacts of climate change on landscapes, Rowsome said.

"It will really eat away at land management agencies' ability to do good work on the ground, let alone adapt to climate change," he said.

While appropriators will likely have more discretion in 2014 to spare certain programs from cuts, Interior agency funding could theoretically remain flat through the early 2020s, Rowsome said.



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