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Camping Season Shortened at 16 State Parks

January 11, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Severe environmental budget cuts in Massachusetts will hit home for the public this summer with expected staff cuts at parks and campgrounds, but they will probably also take a toll in less visible areas such as water and air protection, recycling efforts, and the policing of environmental crimes, according to the Boston Globe.

Since the beginning of fiscal year 2009, the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation’s budget has been slashed by more than 23%, from $102 million to $78.3 million today, and the agency has lost 171 full-time positions through retirements, attrition and layoffs. The state Department of Environmental Protection’s budget has been cut about 16%, from $62.3 million to $50.7 million, in that time and is losing about 140 full-time positions. The latest round of layoffs occurred this month.

Among the program hits: Virtually all community recycling grants have disappeared; technical assistance to help communities deal with hazardous waste sites is reduced; the Agricultural Innovation Center, which partnered with industry to develop new businesses, is gone and there are about 15% fewer environmental police officers to ensure boaters, snowmobilers, hunters and fishermen abide by state laws. The cuts are also expected to slow permitting timelines for development projects and efforts to clean up toxic mercury and emerging pollutants.

Environmentalists said some efforts, such as land conservation and money for capital projects for some bridges and parks, remain strong. But the cuts will mean significantly less year-round and seasonal staff at state parks – cuts the public will feel.

State officials say some parks won’t be staffed at all, while others will have fewer employees to assist visitors and fewer maintenance workers to pick up garbage and maintain grounds. The camping season this year will be shortened by several weeks at 16 of the state’s 29 campgrounds during the spring and fall.

“In making these staffing cuts, which were difficult and painful, our priority was to sustain park operations, enhance our visitors’ experience, and ensure public safety, which we believe is our core mission,’’ said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr.

Jack Clarke, a policy expert and lobbyist with Mass Audubon, said he understands the economic crisis, but the state’s environmental budget makes up less than 1% of the state’s total budget – and that was before the cuts.

“We can do better,’’ he said.

Environmental budgets often get cut first, Clarke said, “but these are the agencies that do the enforcement of the air we breathe and the water we drink.’’

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