February 26, 2013

National Park Service preparing for sequestration cuts


The National Park Service has been planning for months for cuts to the parks’ budgets if mandatory across-the-board spending cuts in federal funding, called sequestration, become effective on Friday.

The cuts are expected to happen unless Congress passes legislation before Friday that would stop them.  Thus far, neither Congress nor the President seem inclined to stop the process.

The Outer Banks Group, which includes the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, is facing slashing its $9.5 million budget for 2013 by $477,000.

All park units were required to submit plans for the cuts by Feb. 11.

Documents published on various websites this month have included an NPS summary of park impacts, a memo from NPS director Jonathan Jarvis to regional directors, and instruments for planning the cuts and reporting them.

Hiring freezes have already been placed on hiring permanent employees. Parks may continue hiring plans for temporary seasonal employees, but cannot make any offers – even as the seashore and other park units begin preparations for the heavy summer tourist season.

In a media release issued yesterday, Interior secretary Ken Salazar and Jarvis warned that mandatory budget cuts will result in reduced hours of operation for visitor centers, shorter seasons, and possibly closing campgrounds, hiking trails, and other recreations areas “when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, staff, and resources."

They warned that the reduced hours and service will affect not only America’s 398 national parks but also 561 national wildlife refuges and more than 268 public land units.

Much of the fallout from the budget cuts is the result of the ban on temporary seasonal employees, which keep many park programs going in the tourist season.

At Cape Hatteras, temporary interpretative, maintenance, and resources employees lead visitor programs at the parks, staff the visitor centers, collect trash from campgrounds and other public places, and even monitor threatened birds and turtles.

“We remain hopeful that the situation is resolved and these cuts will be avoided,” Outer Banks Group Superintendent Barclay Trimble said in an e-mail today. “…the Outer Banks Group, like every government agency and NPS unit, has been asked to prepare plans in the event that sequestration happens.  Our planning process is still ongoing.  If the sequestration in not resolved, the public should be prepared for reduced hours and services provided by the Outer Banks Groups.”

Cyndy Holda, public information specialist for the Outer Banks Group, said today that if sequestration happens, visitors will not immediately begin noticing the impacts on Friday but it will happen more gradually as programs and visitor services begin revving up for summer.

For instance, the NPS campgrounds at Oregon Inlet, Frisco, and Ocracoke are scheduled to open April 5.

Without seasonal maintenance employees to do such things as collect garbage, the campgrounds may have to delay opening or open only a part of the area for visitors.

The Park Service declined to release the specific plans that the Outer Banks Group submitted because, she said, “We don’t know if it will be needed yet.”

In its summary of park impacts, the NPS gave some examples from early plans it had received. 

Unless otherwise noted, the memo said, the impacts are the direct result of fewer seasonal employees and lapsed permanent positions. The impacts are broken down in three areas – reduced visitor access, including delays and closures; reduced visitor services, including youth programs, and reduced resource management, including wildlife and invasive species impacts.

Here are a few of them:

  • With the reduction of seasonal natural resource management positions, Cape Cod National Seashore would be forced to reduce visitor access to large sections of the Great Beach in order to protect nesting shorebirds.  The nesting birds require daily monitoring, which a reduced staff could not provide.
  • At Natchez Trace Parkway, a reduction in seasonal employees will cause closure of 25 comfort stations one day per week.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway would cut 21 seasonal interpretive ranger positions, resulting in the closure of seven visitor center-contact stations.
  • Cape Cod National Seashore will close the Province Lands Visitor Center for the season.  It is the lesser used of two visitor centers.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park will close five remote campgrounds and picnic areas as a result of seasonal staffing.
  • Yellowstone National Park would delay spring road opening operations. Visitor access to several areas will be delayed by weeks.

Grand Canyon National Park would delay the opening of the East and West Rim drives.

The comments from Salazar and Jarvis came yesterday as the NPS released a 2011 report about the economic impacts of the parks on local communities.

The reports says that the parks continue to be “important economic engines for local communities” nationwide, with visitors generating $30.1 billion in economic activity and supporting 252,000 jobs.

The report shows that in 2011 almost 2.7 million visitors to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and Wright Brothers National Memorial spent a total of more than $131 million in communities surrounding the parks.  This spending supported approximately 1,800 jobs in the area.

Most visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food, and beverage service (63 percent), followed by recreation and entertainment (17 percent), other retail (11 percent), transportation and fuel (7 percent), and wholesale and manufacturing (2 percent.)

The report is a peer-reviewed spending analysis of national park visitors across the country conducted by Michigan State University for the National Park Service. 

To download the report visit: http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/products.cfm#MGM and click on Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll, 2011.  The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.


Click here to read an NPS memo, entitled “Summary of Park Impacts – Patterns Among Early Submissions.” Sequester—nps memo

Click here
to see a list of national parks, historic sites, and national monuments and the amount of money that must be cut from their budgets under sequestration. Sequestration in nps planning

Click here to read a memo from NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis on sequester planning. Sequester-jarvis memo

Click here to read an NPS document on instructions for sequestration planning. Sequester instructions

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