Salazar and Jarvis Discuss National Park Cuts
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar offered more details on Monday (Feb. 26) about how the automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect on Friday would hit national parks, the New York Times reported.
With a budget cut of 5%, or $112 million, thousands of National Park Service employees would be furloughed and thousands more seasonal workers would not be hired, he said. That would mean reducing visitor services and access to interpretive centers, campgrounds and hiking trails, he suggested.
Some skeptics have questioned why a 5% cut would have such a pronounced impact on park services. Salazar explained that because the cuts would take place in the middle of the fiscal year, their impact is effectively doubled. Gateway communities to national parks would be devastated, he predicted: Whitefish, Mont., which is adjacent to Glacier National Park, would lose an estimated $1 million per day in revenue.
“Their season opens when Glacier’s road gets plowed,” he said.
Jon Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service, estimated that 85% to 90% of the parks budget represents fixed costs like permanent staff payroll, maintenance and utilities. The remainder is discretionary, he said, and that “comes down to the frontline visitor services.”
That includes seasonal workers who staff visitor centers and campgrounds, plow roads for the summer, monitor wildfires and perform search and rescue operations, he said. Such reductions have a cascading effect, he added: without adequate staff to ensure safety, some parks would have to block parts of the backcountry to hikers, campers and other visitors.
Jarvis cited the Gettysburg National Military Park, for example. This year is the 150th anniversary of the battle, considered by many to have been a turning point in the Civil War, but if the cuts go through, the special educational programs planned for the site will probably be eliminated, he said.
It is a poignant example, he said, of how a small cut can have a significant impact.