Having already grown accustomed to a dwindling budget in recent years, the National Park Service is now facing the prospect of a decade of across-the-board cuts starting at nearly 8% in 2013 plus a cap on discretionary spending that will be in effect from 2012 through 2021.
According to a report in the Flathead (Mont.) Beacon, this could mean shorter seasons at some national parks, staff reductions, deferred infrastructure maintenance, campground closings, reduced amenities and, perhaps, increased real estate development within park boundaries, among other cost-cutting casualties, according to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
In Northwest Montana, it means unavoidable impacts – in some form – on Glacier National Park, which a state tourism official calls the region’s “main economic driver.” And the threat of cuts comes at a time when Glacier is experiencing soaring visitation.
“Across the park system, it is fair to say that superintendents will be forced to make tough decisions,” said John Garder, the NPCA’s budget and appropriations legislative representative in Washington DC.
In November, the NPCA released a report stating that in fiscal year 2011 the National Park Service had funding reduced by $140 million, including $11.5 million for operations. Since 2002, the report states, the agency’s discretionary budget has decreased from $3 billion to $2.6 billion in today’s dollars.
The NPCA is an independent organization established in 1919 to protect and enhance the national park system, according to its website, with headquarters in Washington DC, 25 regional field offices and more than 600,000 members and supporters.
The organization’s report arrives at a time when the nation is mired in debate over how to trim the federal government’s deficit. The Budget Control Act of 2011, enacted in August, calls for cutting the deficit by roughly $900 billion through caps on discretionary spending beginning in 2012 and ending in 2021. Those spending caps will affect the national park system.
The Budget Control Act also established a deficit-reduction supercommittee, which failed to meet its late-November deadline for devising a plan to trim the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. The committee’s failure means Congress now has a year to agree on its own legislation before sequestration takes effect in 2013, setting off a decade of automatic cuts.
If Congress fails, automatic 7.8% cuts to non-defense discretionary programs, including the National Park Service, will be implemented in 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. After that, these programs will endure cuts between 5.5% and 7.8%t through 2021.
Garder says about 90% of national parks’ budgets consist of fixed costs.
“That means the superintendents have 10% control of their budgets,” Garder said. “You cut 8% and they have to make some deep and painful cuts.”
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