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Super committee could gut national parks budget

November 10, 2011 |  1:07 pm

Yosemitesnow600
National Park Service funding could potentially be gutted if the so-called congressional super committee doesn’t find those elusive $1.3 trillion in budget cuts this month.

According to a new report released today by the National Parks Conservation Assn., a parks advocacy organization, failure by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (colloquially known as the super committee) could trigger a sequestration process that would mandate cuts in National Park Service funding by as much as 9%.

This would mean a $231 million cut to the national parks budget that is currently at $2.6 billion, said Craig Obey, senior vice president of government affairs at NPCA, in a press conference today. That would come on top of nearly $140 million in cuts made in 2011.

Overall, the National Park Service budgets are down almost $400 million from where they were 10 years ago.

“I’m watching this cut like everyone else and we’re very worried,” said Obey at the conference. “The issue with the national parks –- if you think of the budget like a tire, right now the tire has a slow leak. If we get a 9% cut, it’s a blow-out. Either way, you have a flat tire. We’re looking real soon at some tough results in the national parks.”

Those results, say the report, could include the closure of some parks, campgrounds, visitor centers and other services, the virtual elimination of seasonal rangers, a curtailment of law enforcement staff and resources for endangered species monitoring and other scientific work.

Gathered at the press conference were a group of experts concerned about the economic effects of any drop in visitors to the country’s popular national parks. Obey pointed out that the money going into the parks was a direct economic investment, returning $4 in economic benefit for every $1 spent, for a total direct annual contribution of $13.2 billion to the U.S. economy.

“I’m a Republican, a former two-term county mayor in a county that is the northern gateway to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park,” said Iliff McMahan, former mayor of Cocke County in Tennessee. “The park is a driver for economic activity in our area.”

“I implore that the lawmakers see that as an investment in the economic driver, the engine that drives that part of the U.S., and they do the right thing and keep that economic engine going.”

Obey and others noted that any cuts made now to National Park Service budgets would come mostly from basic operating budgets. More flexible accounts like construction and land acquisition have already been drastically curtailed.

John Garder, budget and appropriations legislative representative for National Parks Conservation Assn., pointed out that, even before the super committee process, the parks were already likely to experience budget challenges for the next decade. The Budget Control Act of 2011, passed in August, set discretionary caps for spending through 2021 that, depending on how they are interpreted, would mean flat budgets for the National Park Service for the next 10 years.

“Because of the real uncontrollable costs with rent increases, utility, cost of living increases for employees, and general increased expenses, the practical effect of a flat budget is a reduction in real terms,” said Garder. “It is less money that they have to work with. So we are already looking at a challenging climate for the NPS for the next decade.”

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-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: The floor of Yosemite National Park covered in snow. Budget cuts could sharply curtail park services. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.

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