A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce held a hearing yesterday entitled “Vacation Nation: How Tourism Benefits our Economy.” Its timing was particularly ironic considering that our national parks are now suffering from across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration,” which went into effect in March.
National parks — often referred to as “America’s best idea” — are major U.S. tourism drivers. In fact, every year, more than 280 million visitors visit national park units, and stimulate $30 billion in economic activity and 252,000 American jobs every year.
But national parks — along with other federal agencies — were cut by 5 percent in March, plus additional cuts recently passed by the Senate. Because the cuts are so arbitrary, many officials are scratching their heads in confusion. As new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell — the former CEO of outdoor company REI that made $2 billion in profits last year — put it:
Well, as a business person, I’m used to managing to budgets, but I’m used to doing that in a really rational way, which is, you decide the areas that you need to focus on, your priorities, and you may take resources from an area that’s lower priority and put it into an area that’s higher priority. Sequestration does not allow us to do that. It is not a sensible way to run a business, and it’s not a sensible way to run government.
Somewhat surprisingly, sequestration’s impacts on national parks were not even mentioned in yesterday’s Congressional hearing. In direct contrast to this oversight, officials across the country continue to raise alarms about how jobs both at national parks and businesses that rely on tourism are being cut by sequestration. For example:
– At Acadia National Park in Maine, 12 seasonal positions will not be hired and 32 positions will be reduced by 2–6 weeks.
– Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area will hire 17 fewer seasonal employees, who are the “backbone of the park during the busy season.”
As National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said in February, “The national parks return more than $10 for every $1 the American taxpayer invests in the National Park Service; that makes good stewardship sense and good business sense.” What does not make sense is draconian cuts that keep the national parks from being able to provide these economic benefits.