J. Jarvis: 'We Muddled Through the Summer'
Editor's Note: The following story was published by the Hungry Horse News, Flathead, Mont.
National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan Jarvis sits on a picnic table outside the Lake McDonald Lodge on a near perfect afternoon last week. Behind him, a building has a tarp draped over it because a tree fell and damaged the roof. The repairs have yet to be made, and there might not be enough money to actually make them, due to federal budget cuts.
Jarvis rattles off the impacts of the cuts that came this year and will likely impact budgets next year as well — a $153 million cut to the NPS operations budget, a hiring freeze that impacted 900 positions, a thousand seasonal employees who were not hired.
Jarvis was visiting Glacier Park to meet with the National Parks Foundation Board to go over fundraising strategies for the future and to get a first hand look at climate change.
“A lot of people stepped up” to help fund the nation’s parks, he said.
“That’s not sustainable,” he said in a candid interview. “That’s the bottom line. We muddled through the summer.”
Meanwhile, Glacier Park is on the cusp of posting record visitation numbers this summer — visitors that bring millions of dollars to the local economy.
“I would hope Congress would understand the National Park Service is not an expenditure — it’s an investment,” he said.
Jarvis claimed that every $1 spent on a national park translated into $4 for the local economy.
“(Businesses) rely on this park being funded adequately,” he said.
If people start to see a declining experience, such as rundown facilities or lack of staffing, “they’re not going to come back,” he said.
This year, the Glacier National Park Conservancy donated about $500,000 to Glacier Park projects, but it was the first time ever they gave $10,000 toward plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road — a budgetary item normally covered by the park.
“It should never fall on the backs of philanthropy to fund the national parks,” Jarvis said.
It’s tough for NPS to plan a budget as a perpetual organization when it gets annual funding. The budget right now is untenable. He nods to the shed behind him as an example.
“Look, we’re throwing a tarp over it,” he said.
Jarvis touched on other Glacier Park subjects. While noise is one of the main complaints facing the park, he said, NPS has no authority to regulate noise from motorcycles.
But park officials can regulate air tours over the Park, he said. He noted work has been done in other national parks, including the Grand Canyon, where air tour operators use helicopters designed to reduce noise.
Glacier Park’s General Management Plan, written in the late 1990s, calls for phasing out air tours over the park, but that has never happened.
Regarding climate change, Jarvis said NPS’s role is to study the science and manage species impacted when possible, but NPS wouldn’t do something on a landscape scale, such as cover a glacier with a tarp to try to preserve it.
According to some estimates, glaciers in Glacier National Park will largely be gone in the next 15 to 20 years.