The looming budget crisis and “sequestration” are currently the talk of the town in Washington, D.C. But often lost in these discussions are the real impacts that Americans will feel if important government programs are cut.
For public lands, January’s massive and automatic budget cuts be will felt strongly in our national parks, some of which could even be closed if a budget deal is not reached.
That’s the message being delivered by the National Parks Conservation Association, a group dedicated to advocacy on behalf of America’s 398 national parks units. This week, the group is launching an online and print ad campaign to warn lawmakers that slashing the budget of the National Park Service could mean:
…some level of closure at virtually every national park in the system, including reductions in park hours or seasons, closures of campgrounds or visitor’s centers, and even the outright closure of many parks in the next year. And it could eliminate as many as 9,000 rangers who serve the public, protect our parks, and keep the parks running.
NPCA calculates that the cuts could be equivalent to closing as many as 200 national park units.
Like other non-defense agencies, the National Park Service faces cuts under automatic budget sequestration at the beginning of January. The White House Office of Management and Budget noted that many agencies, including the park service, will see an 8.2 percent cut in funding to critical programs. This translates to a $218 million cut for national parks in fiscal year 2013.
Slashing this budget so dramatically could be devastating to the park service. According to OMB, the majority of cuts are to the park operations account, which funds priorities such as law enforcement, visitor education, campground maintenance, etc. And on top of this, the park service already faces a smaller budget and large maintenance backlog.
While it takes funding to manage national parks, it is important to note the enormous return on investment that they bring. In addition to preserving our natural and cultural heritage, national parks contributed $31 billion in 2011 and supported 258,000 jobs. Some have estimated that for every $1 spent on national parks, $4 in economic impacts are generated.
Recent history has shown that voters are willing to spend money on conservation. Indeed, in the 2012 election, voters in 21 states approved ballot measures that will provide $767 million for parks and conservation. Since the American public is willing to tax itself for the purpose of conservation, lawmakers should find a balanced approach to the budget crisis that includes revenue increases so as to continue funding important government priorities like national parks.
Whether or not Congressional leaders and the White House reach a budget deal remains to be seen. But it’s certain that we’ll see major changes at our national parks very soon if a deal is not reached.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.