Sally Jewell, chief executive of outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), won easy Senate confirmation Wednesday (April 10) to be the nation’s next interior secretary.
According to a Boston Globe report, the Senate approved her nomination 87 to 11, with all the no votes coming from Republicans. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, was among those who opposed Jewell.
Jewell will oversee more than 500 million acres of national parks and other public lands, plus more than 1 billion acres offshore. The lands are used for energy development, mining, recreation, and other purposes.
One of the first challenges Jewell will face is a proposed rule requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.
Jewell also is expected to continue to push development of renewable energy such as wind and solar power, both of which are priorities of the interior secretary she succeeds, Ken Salazar.
President Obama nominated Jewell last month to replace Salazar, who announced his departure in January.
Obama said in a statement Tuesday that Jewell’s extensive business experience — including her work as a petroleum engineer — and her longtime commitment to conservation made her the right person for the job.
‘‘She brings an important mix of strong management skills, appreciation for our nation’s tradition of protecting our public lands and heritage, and a keen understanding of what it means to be good stewards of our natural resources,’’ Obama said.
Jewell, 57, of Seattle, also was a banker before taking over Kent, Wash.-based REI in 2005.
More than 282 million people visited America’s national parks in 2012, an increase of more than 3 million over 2011.
It was the sixth highest annual visitation in the history of the National Park Service, despite nearly 2 million fewer visitors as a result of park closures caused by Hurricane Sandy, according to a news release.
“The National Park Service strives to represent all that America has to offer,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “People come to national parks for many reasons – for recreation and to learn about American history by strolling through a battlefield. They come to listen to a park ranger at Independence National Historical Park and marvel at the Continental Congress. And people come to national parks for old-fashioned enjoyment of the great outdoors.”
National parks capture the story the United States, from its earliest days to the modern era. Jarvis said, “The dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and the opening of the César E. Chávez National Monument in 2012 help us to continue to explore how our nation of many faces and many voices has developed.”
The challenges left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy will become part of American history, too. The storm slammed into 70 national park sites from North Carolina to Maine. Some parks closed briefly, others for weeks while the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York remain closed for repairs.
“The Statue of Liberty will reopen by the Fourth of July,” Jarvis said. “It’ll take longer at the Ellis Island Museum. As we rebuild we keep sustainability front of mind. It is clear that our changing climate will bring more severe weather events, especially to coastal areas, and we must repair our iconic national parks to survive future storms.”
With spring vacations looming, popular destinations from Florida’s Gulf Stream waters to California’s redwood forest are now implementing mandatory spending cuts, known as sequestration, that started this month.
The failure of Congress and President Barack Obama to agree on reducing the deficit triggered $85 billion in cuts by Sept. 30 that are to be split between defense and non-defense spending, Bloomberg News reported.
With Congress and the White House deadlocked, visitors to landmarks run by the National Park Service will confront longer lines, dirtier bathrooms and closed visitor centers. Sequestration is causing federal facilities — particularly the parks — to delay maintenance, freeze hiring, trim operating hours and cancel programs for school groups.
“Visitors will see a reduction in services,” Dave Uberuaga, superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, said in a March 1 e-mail to holders of commercial use permits to operate in the park.
That means a two-hour reduction in summer hours at the park’s main visitor center, longer processing times for backcountry permits and extended lines to enter the park, which has an average 4.38 million visitors a year.
Grand Canyon’s restrooms and campgrounds will be cleaned less often, and repairs to damaged trails will take longer, Uberuaga said in a phone interview. Sequestration cut $1.1 million from $21 million in 2012 federal funding. The park has stopped hiring and eliminated staff travel and overtime, except for an emergency, he said.
Tours of the White House were canceled this month, though Obama last week said he is seeking a way to resume them for school groups.
Visitor centers at Acadia National Park in Maine and Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts will delay opening or reduce operating hours. Acadia, which is losing $390,000 from its $7.8 million budget for the year ending Sept. 30, may not open its center until mid-May, a month later than usual, Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent, said in a phone interview.
Cape Cod plans to reduce hours at the Province Lands visitor center and may close the facility, which hosts about 260,000 tourists a year, said Superintendent George Price. A National Park Service statement last year showed visitors to the seashore and surrounding areas spent more than $171 million in 2010, supporting about 2,000 jobs in Massachusetts.
“Our economic footprint here on Cape Cod is pretty significant,” Price said in a phone interview.
A hiring freeze at Padre Island National Seashore, which stretches for 70 miles along the Gulf of Mexico south of Corpus Christi, Texas, will trim the patrol force to nine officers from 11, Joe Escoto, park superintendent said in a phone interview.
Federal budget cuts also put animal life in jeopardy. The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle lives near Padre Island and park rangers usually find turtle eggs and transfer them to incubators to shield them from tides, predators and tourists driving on the beach. If sequestration persists, and leads to fewer beach patrols, it may hurt the turtle population, Escoto said.
At Biscayne National Park south of Miami, officials have canceled environmental-education camps through Sept. 30, upending the plans of about 50 students, said Assistant Superintendent Sula Jacobs.
“We’re undergoing our busiest season now,” Cheryl Chipman, a spokeswoman for Death Valley National Park in California, said in an interview. While visitors won’t see many immediate changes, Chipman said that may change if the spending reductions are sustained and vacant positions, including park electrician, aren’t filled in coming months, when Death Valley becomes one of the Earth’s hottest places.
“If we have problems with air conditioning and facilities at 120 degrees, that’s going to be a problem,” Chipman said.
Further north in California, at Yosemite National Park, officials are cutting a $28 million base budget by $1.4 million. Options include reducing or cutting ranger-led programs at sites including the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias and Glacier Point, a popular lookout, according to Scott Gediman, a Yosemite spokesman.
“This is going to be phased in,” he said in a phone interview. “The park is going to remain open. We’re not looking at closing any facilities.”
The Bipartisan Policy Center will kick off its 2013 Bridge-Builder Breakfast series March 19 in Washington, D.C., with a discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing the funding of America’s national parks.
National parks have a special place in American life and culture, yet the erosion of park funding threatens the future of this beloved American institution, according to a news release announcing the meeting. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA) will launch a national dialogue that day to identify additional non-appropriated funding strategies that can generate bipartisan support for America’s treasured national parks.
Derrick Crandall, a counselor for the NPHA and president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), stated in tandem with the news release, “Sequestration is definitely going to be impacting visitors to national parks this summer – and for years to come, as federal budget pressures will make ‘business as usual,’ including reliance on appropriations for virtually all funding a dangerous strategy.”
The blue ribbon body has enlisted the thinking and experiences of a stellar group, including former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, former members of congress Norm Dicks and Jim Oberstar and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.
National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis issued a memo Friday (March 8) detailing the scope of a 5% across-the-board budget cut and the damaging effect it will have on the already beleaguered agency.
The automatic budget cuts will force delayed openings at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, which must slash $682,000 and $1.8 million from their respective budgets, while gateway communities and the local economy will suffer, the Missoula, Mont., Missoulian reported.
To help meet the reductions, 900 permanent park service positions will not be filled. In an organization with 15,000 permanent employees, 900 vacant jobs will have a “profound effect,” Jarvis said in the memo, which went out to all National Park Service employees.
“Every activity will be affected. Some impacts will be immediate, others will accumulate over time,” he wrote.
Jarvis explained that fewer law enforcement rangers and U.S. Park Police officers will mean lower levels of protection and longer response times. Fewer maintenance personnel will mean that parks may have to close facilities when breakdowns occur – and that the $12 billion maintenance backlog will continue to grow. Fewer management and administrative personnel can translate into lower levels of accountability and oversight, he wrote.
“Our investments to control invasions by exotic plants and animals will be wasted as they regain toeholds in parks,” he wrote. “Our community support programs will reduce grants and technical assistance to states. Uncertainty about access to everything from interpretive programs to facilities could send visitors elsewhere, with impacts to entrance fees, concession revenue, and the tourism economies in gateway communities.”
The agency will hire more than 1,000 fewer seasonal employees for the 2013 fiscal year, including firefighters and search and rescue crews.
“Seasonal employees are our utility infielders, the ‘bench’ we turn to when fires break out, search and rescue operations are under way, and every other collateral duty,” Jarvis wrote. “Many of these folks return year after year. They are the repositories of amazing institutional knowledge.”
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Businesses that rely on national parks and their settings voiced concern Thursday (Feb. 28) over how the coming federal budget sequestration will affect their operations and the economies in their areas, National Parks Traveler reported.
“The basic truth is that gateway community businesses depend on our national parks being open and properly funded. Our economy depends on their economy,” said Luke D. Hyde, owner of the Calhoun Country Inn near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Bryson City, N.C.
While the National Park Service continued Thursday to sort through the details of what operations and staffing would be affected by a 5.1% budget cut if Congress and the White House fail to agree on a solution before today ends, nearly 300 businesses from across the country warned of the direct impacts the sequestration would have if it’s long-lasting.
The businesses were brought together by the National Parks Conservation Association to put a face on those beyond federal employees who stand to be affected by the budget cuts.
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The automatic budget cuts set to take effect on March 1 will delay the opening of the East and West Rim drives at the Grand Canyon and reduce hours of operation at the main visitor center. At Gettysburg, 20% of student education programs would be eliminated this spring.
According to a Washington Post report, the Blue Ridge Parkway would lose 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, resulting in the closure of half of the park’s visitor stations and leaving 80 miles between each one.
Mount Rainer would permanently close a key visitor center, and Glacier would delay the opening of a well-visited mountain pass.
Five campgrounds and picnics area would close at the Great Smoky Mountains, affecting 54,000 visitors, and the Grand Tetons would close a visitor center, information station and preserve.
These are some new details that have emerged this week of how the National Parks Service would implement a 5.1% across-the-board reduction if Congress does not avert $85 billion in spending cuts across the federal government. A Park Service memo obtained by park advocates and provided to The Washington Post outlines some of the cuts, which would affect direct services to visitors from grass cutting to access to rangers and mountain passes.
The Post also reported that park advocates are pressuring Congress to avert a $110 million cut to the system, which would affect every park, from the National Mall to Yellowstone.
Despite a sour economy and expensive gasoline, nearly 283 million visitors traveled to the National Park System in 2012, an increase of nearly 4 million from 2011 and the highest level of visitation since 2009, National Parks Traveler reported.
Remove 2009 — when visitation reached 285.6 million — from the list and the 282.7 million visitors who headed to parks last year marked the highest visitation in more than decade; you’d have to go all the way back to 2000, when 285.9 million visitors turned out, to find a higher year in terms of visitation.
The figures went live on the National Park Service’s Visitor Use Statistics page after the close of business, East Coast time, Friday and Park Service officials were not immediately available for comment. However, the statistics seem to indicate the overall increase was driven by day trippers.
• Concessionaire-reported lodging nights stood at 3.29 million in 2012, roughly equal to the 3.3 million reported for 2011;
• Stays in concessionaire-run campgrounds stood at 1.25 million in 2012, again roughly equal to the 1.21 million reported the year before;
• Campers in NPS-run campgrounds stood at 3.2 million last year, just behind the 3.22 million reported for 2011;
• Recreational vehicle overnights ran to 2.12 million in 2012, nearly equal to the 2.15 million of 2011;
• Backcountry overnights in 2012 stood at 1.81 million, ahead of the 1.71 million tallied in 2011.
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As cell phones, iPods and laptops creep steadily into every corner of modern life, America’s national parks have stayed largely off the digital grid, among the last remaining outposts of ringtone-free human solitude.
For better or worse, that may soon change, Reuters reported.
Under pressure from telecommunications companies and a growing number of park visitors who feel adrift without mobile-phone reception, the airwaves in such grand getaway destinations as Yellowstone National Park may soon be abuzz with new wireless signals.
That prospect has given pause to a more traditional cohort of park visitors who cherish the unplugged tranquility of the great outdoors, fearing an intrusion of mobile phones – and the sound of idle chatter – will diminish their experience.
Some have mixed emotions. Stephanie Smith, a 50-something Montana native who visits Yellowstone as many as six times a year, said she prefers the cry of an eagle to ring tones.
But she also worries that future generations may lose their appreciation for the value of nature and the need to preserve America’s outdoor heritage if a lack of technology discourages them from visiting.
“You have to get there to appreciate it,” Smith said. “It’s a new world – and technology is a part of it.”
Balancing the two aesthetics has emerged as the latest challenge facing the National Park Service as managers in at least two premier parks, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, consider recent requests to install new telecommunications towers or upgrade existing ones.
There is no system-wide rule governing cellular facilities in the 300 national parks, national monuments and other units the agency administers nationwide. Wireless infrastructure decisions are left up to the managers of individual park units.
The agency’s mission statement requires it to protect park resources and the visitor experience, but each individual experience is unique, said Lee Dickinson, a special-uses program manager for the Park Service.
“I’ve had two visitors calling me literally within hours of each other who wanted exactly the opposite experience: One saying he didn’t vacation anywhere without electronic access and the other complaining he was disturbed by another park visitor ordering pizza on his cell phone,” Dickinson said.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversaw a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill and promoted alternative energy sources throughout the nation, will step down in March.
The Associated Press reported that Salazar, a former Colorado senator, has run the Interior Department throughout President Barack Obama’s first term and pushed renewable power such as solar and wind and the settlement of a longstanding dispute with American Indians.
In a statement, Obama said Salazar had helped “usher in a new era of conservation for our nation’s land, water and wildlife” and had played a major role in efforts to “expand responsible development of our nation’s domestic energy resources.”
Salazar said in a statement that the Interior Department was helping secure “a new energy frontier” and cited an aggressive agenda to reform oil and gas leases, which he said had increased offshore drilling safety.
Under his watch, the Interior Department has authorized nearly three dozen solar, wind and geothermal energy projects on public lands that provide enough electricity to power more than 3 million homes, Salazar said.
Salazar spoke at the 2011 Louisville Show, touting the RV industry as a key proponent in connecting Americans with the outdoors.
“RV’s play a special role in providing Americans a time-honored way of reaching their camping, fishing, hunting and other recreation destinations,” Secretary Salazar said. “And, as a virtually 100% American industry, the RV industry plays a key role in our nation’s economy, employing tens of thousands of men and women right here at home.”
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a longtime Obama ally, is among those mentioned as a potential successor to Salazar, along with John Berry, director of the White House Office of Personnel Management. Berry is a former assistant Interior secretary and director of the National Zoo. Gregoire, whose term expires Wednesday, also is considered a candidate to replace Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency.