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.