Sequestration Cuts Set to Affect National Parks

Grand Canyon National Park is set to face a $1 million budget cut if sequestration goes into effect. Source: NPSBudget sequestration has been looming in the distance, but as we approach March 1, it looks very likely that sequestration will go into effect. The sequestration calls for $1.2 trillion in government spending cuts every year until 2021 in an attempt to slash national debt. This outlines cuts of $55 billion in the defense sector and $55 billion in non-defense spending. While policymakers and economists are split on the long-term effects of such a move, there is no denying one point: National Park visitors will be affected by the sequestration.

The National Park Service falls into that non-defense sector and will be faced with cuts like every other member. In a memo to Regional Directors, Associate and Assistant Directors, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis notes that the parks will face a 5 percent cut for the 2013 fiscal year compared to the original Washington Support Office (WASO) budget.

Based on the park services’ $2.2 billion budget, this equates to a cut of approximately $110 million. The largest parks will, naturally, face the biggest cuts. Some examples of the most significant cuts by park include Yellowstone ($1.75 million), National Mall ($1.6 million), Yosemite ($1.4 million) and the Grand Canyon ($1 million). How these cuts will trickle down to affect visitors is unclear right now as parks work to find areas to cut in their budgets.

Jarvis gave an idea of some the outcomes in his memo: “We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons, and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources and government assets.”

Speculation is that such closures could occur at visitor centers, campgrounds and even limited restroom facilities. Other areas that may be affected include emergency response time within parks. Because parks may be forced to cut back on their number of rangers, visitor safety could take an overall hit. As Jarvis notes in his memo, the parks are concerned with maintaining visitor safety and as such may instead be forced to cut down on operating hours and trail usage so as to keep open areas safe.

Faced with budget cuts, the parks may need to search for new areas to provide funding.

“[F]or the parks, it may be a good way to look at privatization on some level or even raising prices to cover costs. I would be shocked if the market place would reject higher prices," Northwood University professor of economics Tim Nash said in an interview with CNBC.

Until sequestration actually goes into effect and the parks begin budget cuts, there is no way of truly seeing how it will affect visitor service; however, there is no doubt it will be altered.

For those looking to add support to the National Parks, visit the National Park Foundation and the National Parks Conservation Association to see what you can do. Check back with the Oh, Ranger! blog for updates on sequestration.

Image: Grand Canyon National Park is set to face $1 million in budget cuts if sequestration goes into effect. Source: NPS