Sequestration Cuts Hit The National Parks Hard

The effects of massive government budget cuts that took effect on March 1 are being felt across the country already, from the closure of air traffic control towers to cancellation of White House tours to hundreds of thousands of furloughs. Another agency that is beginning to make cuts — just as the spring and summer tourism seasons kick off — is the National Park Service.

The park service faces an approximately 6 percent cut under sequestration and a recently-passed funding bill which means major impacts on how the parks function and the visitor experiences at them. A memo from park service Director Jon Jarvis on March 8 warned that permanent positions will not be filled, and he wrote:

… we will hire over 1,000 less seasonal employees this year. Seasonal employees are our utility infielders, the “bench” we turn to when fires break out, search and rescue operations are underway, and every other collateral duty. Many of these folks return year after year — they are the repositories of amazing institutional knowledge.

In total, 3,000 jobs at the agency may be affected. Here are some of the national park superintendents who are being forced to make hard choices about their parks and staffs:

  • Dan Wenk is Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, which faced a $1.8 million sequestration cut. After considering all of his options, Wenk decided to open most entrances to the park two weeks late this year, losing 50,000 visitors. He also will hire fewer seasonal employees and bring them on later (saving $450,000), and freeze all permanent hires (saving $1 million).  As the Washington Post reported, opening two weeks late has a “ripple effect on jobs and tourism [that] could means millions of dollars in lost income.”  Luckily, a local coalition has provided the funding to open the roads on time this year.
  • Phil Francis is the Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited national park unit in America. To meet the $784,000 cut required by sequestration, Francis has closed a number of facilities and also looked to his workforce. As he put it, “The hiring freeze has saved us some money on permanent staff and we just cut seasonal hiring by more than thirty jobs. With fewer people to be hired, we squeezed money out of diminished support costs….”  Additionally, visitors centers, picnic areas, and more than 400 campsites will be closed.
  • Eric Brunnemann, Superintendent at Badlands National Park, will cut seasonal hires by 24 percent. These positions “support interpretive talks and walks, school programs, custodial services, road, fence and building repair and maintenance, science and research activities, natural resource monitoring, and search and rescue operations,” according to National Parks Traveler.

As these examples show, sequestration is having major impacts on the lives of government employees like park rangers and superintendents. And, as the summer begins, visitors will also start noticing the impacts like fewer park rangers, poorly-maintained restrooms and campgrounds, and longer lines to get into parks.

5 Responses to Sequestration Cuts Hit The National Parks Hard

  1. rollin says:

    Soon the park tourist will just rent a handheld system that will know where they are by GPS and act as a computerized park guide. Maybe an app for their cellphones will do it. More people out of work.

  2. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    By reducing permanent staff and just hiring seasonal staff you also save money on things like benefits, pension plan contributions, etc.

    Companies have found it is “cheaper” to hire part-time or seasonal staff, and the number of seasonal staff or part-time hiring in the government services is reaching very high proportions.

    The problem is that most of these people are unable to contribute to a pension plan, and must put more of their already limited and seasonal money aside to help support themselves in their old age.

    Add on top of that lack of benefits then things like dental bills and any medications (recurring prescriptions, or once in a blue moon type meds) eat even more into your income.

    Many part-time workers forgo dental and medical work because they can’t afford it, or if they can afford it, they make sure their children have it first.

    Essentially, the savings from hiring part-time instead of permanent is short-term, and it just kicks the costs down the road where it’ll be much greater and will have caused much more hardship that someone is going to have to deal with anyway.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    And an ‘app’ to tell them what to do when they run into a grizzly while consulting their GPS handset.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Running down National Parks is part of the plan. Reduce them to rubbish, then demand they be ‘saved’ by selling them off to the rich, who will look after them much better. A few years down the track, but inevitable.

  5. This is just the beginning. I have a feeling that we will never go back on the sequester cuts, now that they are in place. Republicans and Tea Party types, of course, don’t give a damn about the national parks — as Mulga said, they are probably looking at this as a way of getting their hands on some prime pubic lands at fire-sale prices.

    But when you start adding in the air traffic control towers, furloughs, etc., etc., the negative economic effects will add up quickly. By the end of next year, the economy will really feel it through the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and all sorts of critical services. People who lose their jobs can’t afford goods or housing, causing more unemployment and down and down the rabbit hole it spirals — back to another recession or depression.

    Private industry, of course, will not take up the slack. The big corporations are too busy extracting fossil fuels for foreign markets to invest in the U.S. So overall, this growing financial disaster will be analogous to the the growing environmental disaster — take a piece out of the system here, there and elsewhere, and at some point, probably sooner rather than later, the fabric tears and the whole thing collapses.