National Parks face significant cuts as budget deadline looms

In what has become an all too familiar story in recent years, America’s national parks are once again facing a serious threat to their future due to the ongoing fiscal crisis. The bipartisan congressional deficit-reduction committee, often referred to as the “Super Committee,” is currently struggling to find ways to cut $1.3 trillion of spending from the U.S. budget. But as their November 23 deadline looms, the committee is contemplating an across the board 9% cut on all programs, which could be potentially disastrous for the National Park Service – an organization that is already woefully underfunded.

There is no doubt that America’s national parks are popular attractions. On a collective basis, the parks now host more than 280 million visitors per year, giving travelers access to some of the most beautiful and historically important places in the entire country. Those places need to be protected and preserved for the future – something that is increasingly more challenging in today’s political and economic climate. A number of parks, such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, have already delayed much needed repairs and upgrades due to a lack of funds.

Last week, in anticipation of a potential cut to the Park Service budget, the National Parks Conservation Association released a intriguing report entitled Made In America: Investing in National Parks for Our Heritage and Our Economy. The report is packed full of information that highlights the importance of the parks not only for American history and culture, but also the economy. For instance, did you know that the parks are responsible for more than 270,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollar in local revenue across the country? Budget shortfalls could mean the closure of some parks, which would have a dramatic impact on surrounding communities.

The NPCA points out that if the 9% cut takes effect, the Park Service will see its budget reduced by $231 million. Considering the Park Service’s current budget is already more than $400 million below what it was a decade ago, you can begin to understand why this is such a huge concern.
Cuts of this size will have an immediate and direct impact on the parks and our experience there. The NPCA warns that these budget shortfalls will likely lead to fewer rangers in the parks, which means fewer programs for visitors, the potential closure of campgrounds and reduced hours at visitor centers as well. Worse yet, it could have a dramatic impact on response time for emergency rescue teams and lead to the inability to monitor the health of endangered species in the parks.

These changes would have a damaging effect on the communities that surround the park too. When visitors no longer get the experience they had hoped for out of a park, they will decide to go elsewhere, taking their money along with them. That drop in revenue in those communities would have a direct impact on local business and lead to a loss of jobs as well.

Reading through the NPCA report two numbers stood out to me. First, the document cites a poll in which more than 85 percent of Americans said that they supported full funding for the national parks. That impressive number only servers to further demonstrate how well loved those wild places truly are. The other number that stood out was that less than 1/13th of one percent of the total U.S. budget actually goes to the parks. I’d say that makes them an amazing bargain considering some of the other things our tax dollars have gone to over the years.

With the November 23rd deadline looming, lets hope some of the men and women in Washington D.C. are as impressed with those numbers as well.