Updated: President's FY13 $2.6 Billion Budget Request For National Park Service Carries $1 Million Cut

Editor's note: This provides additional details on the budget proposal, a look at previous funding, and adds Park Service Director Jarvis's reaction. Additional updates will be made as reaction from other groups is available.

On its face, President Obama's $2.6 billion FY13 budget proposed for the National Park Service appears to keep funding for the agency basically flat from last year, with just a $1 million decline. But the budget continues some disturbing trends for the agency as it struggles to manage a growing park system with hefty needs.

Beneath the cover of that $2.6 billion budget proposal are cuts and shuffling of funds that will enrich some programs at the expense of others. Overall, according to the Park Service, there needs to be "$67.2 million in strategic reductions in park and program operations, construction, and heritage partnership programs."

Exactly where those cuts might fall won't be known until at least later this week when the Interior Department releases its more detailed "green book" on the budget proposal. Still, some cuts might take months to identify by the Park Service.

The budget also proposes to cut more than 200 full-time positions from the Park Service, lowering its national staff to 21,689.

In addressing the proposal, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis focused not on the cuts that will have to be made, but on the economic might of the National Park System and the need to sustain the system in no small part for the good of the economy.

“In these tough economic times we recognize the value the 397 national parks provide all Americans – as places of introspection and recreation and as economic engines that create jobs and help our gateway communities thrive,” said the director in a prepared statement.

"In 2010, national park visitors – 281 million of them – were responsible for a $31 billion impact on the nation’s economy. From motel rooms to gas for the car and souvenirs, visitor spending supported more than 258,400 American jobs.”

But a glance at the past decade of Park Service budgets shows disconcerting declines in areas key to the health of the park system.

The president's proposal requests just $131.1 million for construction projects -- projects such as the new exhibit hall at Dinosaur National Monument, the restoration of the Bodie Island Lighthouse at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, road repairs, dam safety work. That's down from the $824 million spent during FY09, a figure that ballooned under the American Recovery and Reinvestment act. But it's also down from the $155.4 million appropriated for this work in FY12, and from the $356 million spent on construction back in FY04.

And while the president's budget reflects a $13.5 million increase in funding for "operation of the National Park System," and says the overall appropriation will allow the agency to "continue to provide enriching experiences and enjoyment for all visitors...", the budget also calls for a $1.5 million cut in "Visitor Services."

Exactly how that cut would be applied under the proposal won't be known until the green book arrives. But Jeff Olson, a spokesman in the Park Service's Washington, D.C., headquarters, provided some insights into where the cuts might come from.

"We're talking about reduced hours during the lower visitation months. Fewer hours that a visitor center is open, fewer hours that a campground might be opened,” said Mr. Olson. "We have to spread $21.6 million (of the $67.2 million in cuts) around to come out of park base operations. Resource stewardship -- that's natural resources and science. Visitor services -- it's interpretation and education, campfire programs, ranger walks and talks."

Funding for Heritage Partnership Programs that work with National Heritage Areas was cut nearly in half, to $9.3 million from $17.4 million.

Too, the budget cites the ever-present reliance the Park Service places on visitor fees to make ends meet. For the coming fiscal year, the agency expects to take in $172 million from these fees, and intends to obligate $172.9 million for projects throughout the National Park System.

"In 2011, 47 percent of NPS recreation fee obligations addressed asset repair and maintenance projects, 19 percent addressed interpretation and visitor services, and 10 percent addressed habitat restoration," the Park Service budget narrative stated. "The remaining 24 percent of recreation fee obligations were spent on operational activities such as law enforcement, cost of collecting fees, and visitor reservation services."

Comments

This joke budget isn't worth NPT's time. Senator Reid won't even allow it to be voted on. More deception as usual.

Gee, guess we know how NPS rates! $1 million proposed cut for NPS. $800 million increase to Arab Spring.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/13/us-usa-budget-foreign-idUSTRE81C1C920120213

More than just headlines... thank you for at least considering looking at the details once they are released. $800 billion to foster democracy in the arib countries is a great use of money, and cannot be compared in any way to the money spent on the parks. It is apples and staples different.
The federal budget is a total disaster. Many will suffer while the feds learn to spend within their means. I have been impressed (at least on the surface) at how the NPS spends its money. When the Cuyahoga Valley Rec Area was renamed National Park, rather than replacing all of the signs, they simply used stickers, and other editing methods to make the change. Many federal agencies would take a small change like that as an excuse to spend a ton of money on all new signs, cars, and even buildings simply because they had the old name on them.
And as pointed out earlier, its all about politics, and this thing will not see the light of day in its current form. There are way too many intentional political land mines included. The President is baiting the Republicans to block it, and they will.

One thing that the NPS cannot cut is law enforcement. The NPS is so understaffed LE wise it is pathetic. With less LE you have no way of keeping drugs, poachers, resource thieves, and general crimes out of parks. In my opinion you can cut all interp rangers and bring on volunteers to do their job as long as all LE Rangers are saved!

If only many (LE) were a little less arrogant and Gestapo like, not all, just some. The Parks are the peoples', not their own personal turf. A learning curve that comes with maturity.

Anon at 5:25 pm--

What a narrow point of view! I suspect that the vast majority of protection rangers would not even subscribe to your point of view. It is the interpreters, after all, who help people understand the value of the resources contained within parks, something that prevents resource crimes in parks equally as much as do those who are charged with enforcing the laws within these areas. In fact, interpretation is one of the most important tools in reducing illegal activity within the park system. You ought to be glad they are around instead of carelessly saying they could be replaced by volunteers.

Rick

I'm finding a lot that I can agree with here today:). Things are looking up:)!
On the budget deal, how does Baseline Budgeting come into play on this? Is the proposed $1 Mill reduction in reality $1 Mill off the proposed increase or $1 Mill less than was budgeted last year? Did the $700 in Stymulus money NPS received above what was budgeted in '09 raise the Baseline for 2010? This stuff is never simple with lots of room to hide the realities. Just wondering...

You gotta be kidding me Rick. When was the last time a interp ranger stopped someone from poaching an elk, growing marijuana, or being drunk in one of our parks? Interp rangers do have a good role in the system, but volunteer or stipend employees can do the EXACT same thing. Look at campground hosts and how many agencies have gones to them. Instead of paying an hourly employee to essentially run a campground you can now have somebody (typically retirees) run the campground and in return they get a free campsite and a monthly stipend. Sounds like something the interp programs need to start doing!

Anonymous (2/14 @ 10:23 PM),

Have you worked as an interpretive or law enforcement ranger? While each discipline is specialized, their roles aren’t mutually exclusive. I have, as an interpretive ranger, responded independently to situations when law enforcement was unavailable, and I know LE rangers who provide good interpretation when it is appropriate.

I don’t think Rick Smith was suggesting that interpretive rangers go deal with drunks, or pot growers, or poachers. Those, I’ll agree with you, are situations when law enforcement officers need to respond. However, interpretive rangers deal with resource protection issues almost daily—when walking trails, answering questions in the visitor center, and presenting programs. These are generally educational and interpretive contacts that have long lasting effects on visitor behavior. It is a level of resource protection that law enforcement actions typically don’t or should provide. It’s a job for interpretive rangers. Eliminating interpretation for the benefit of law enforcement will only create more resource protection issues.

Furthermore, to assume that interpretive rangers can be replaced by volunteers is absurd. Volunteers are extremely valuable, but if you want consistently professional, high quality interpretive services, then parks must continue to have paid interpretive staff. Parks already have trouble retaining seasonal staff from year to year. Without pay, turnover within a volunteer only, seasonal interpretive staff would be so great that you would almost never talk to an interpreter who has spent more than one season at a park. This will only result in a staff with less knowledge of the park and less skill meeting the needs of the people who visit.

I can tell you from personal experience that the quality of my interpretive skills and as well as the depth of my resource knowledge has increased substantially over the past ten years. I started as a volunteer and I continue to work as a paid seasonal interpretive ranger. I have mentored and supervised people who started as volunteers with little interpretive skills or experience and then I watched them grow into highly skilled and knowledgeable interpretive rangers. I already work without health or retirement benefits. What other sacrifices do you think I should make? I, like most interpretive rangers, would not be in this profession if I had to live off of a stipend. It just isn’t realistic. In your scenario, the parks and the public both lose.

Ike--

Thank you. I agree 100%. Anon is just flat wrong.

Rick

I spent an entire career in law enforcement.
I would not choose to live in any society which abandoned the education of its citizens in favor of enhanced policing.
We can hope that anonymous, quoted above, is young in her or his career. We can look forward to their gaining a better understanding of the limited ability of the force of law to provide for a prosperous and healthy society.
I trust their enthusiasm for the practice of policing has temporarily limited their understanding of the proper role of policing in a democratic society of which the NPS is both a part and an example.

Ike, that is a wonderful and well balanced reply. Any successful, complex endeavor must involve teamwork. Without teamwork, it will almost certainly fail.

Our team consists of people wearing many hats and many uniforms. Maintenance crews, volunteers, interpretive rangers, office staff, LE rangers, fire control, mechanics, architects, biologists and many others. Take out one part of the web and it could easily collapse.

I worked in a time when rangers were expected to do everything. I might have led a guided walk in the afternoon and then responded to handle a drunk in the campground in the evening. I had my weapon in my backpack while telling visitors about wildflowers. I cleaned restrooms and emptied garbage cans when needed. And it wasn't unusual to stop along the trail and listen to one of our maintenance crew explaining some aspect of the park or answering questions for visitors.

I have very mixed feelings about some of the things I see in parks today. I wish there was some practical way to integrate various disciplines, but still understand the need for at least some specialization. I've heard a couple of horror stories about LE rangers, Interpreters, Volunteers, and Maintenance crews who operate in little vacuums with no one speaking to or socializing with one another. In the two places where I heard those stories, I had already sensed that there were problems. The park's public face was unable to cover up strife among staff. I wasn't the only visitor who noticed. It was apparent enough that others who were not former wearers of the flat hat remarked about it as we visited together in the campgrounds. I wrote what I hoped were kindly thoughtful letters to the superintendents. In one case I received a reply telling me the superintendent was new and was aware of and working to solve the problem. From the other, there was nothing.

I guess it all comes down to trying our best to do the best job each of us can do -- as one member of a larger team. Every member of a park family is valuable and deserves respect for what they can and do contribute.

Anyone in a position of leadership needs to remember that and act upon it.

I agree with Rick's viewpoint that Interp Rangers are charged the responsibility of helping instill in our visitors the understanding of our park's valuable resources. However, I resent the comparison of NPS Law Enforcement Rangers to the Gestapo. I wear my flat hat with pride and I am humbled by the Comission I earned and hold. My mission is to protect the parks from the people, the people from the parks, and the people from the people- FAR from Gestapo mentality!

Heidi, there are imperfect individuals in any organization. There is a learning curve for everyone and young aggressive members of the club can be very ....well aggressive. I understand that and hope you do also.

In my opinion the NPS is primarily a want and not a need except for the most major parks and areas that must be preserved. 397 NPS parks is way too many.
In my area, when the NPS comes in, it is primarily to close beach areas to protect wildlife against the wishes of all locals and visitors. I guess they are the enforcer for the endangered species act, and at this point in history, almost eveyting is endangered.
I believe the NPS needs major funding cuts and to be rightsized. Im not sure what their mission is, but it needs to be tightly focused.

Well it is true ~ son set to start seasonal law enforcement position next week. Has done all pre-employment tests etc and got a call today that the budget cuts hit and all seasonal positions are cancelled. Had this offer for 2 months!

Interpretation is the best method of peace-keeping in the parks. LE Rangers too often create more problems than they solve.

Ranger Don

Right on, Rick.

Ranger Don

Sorry, Heidi, but LE rangers are as likely to be gestapo-like -- or at least southern deputy sheriff-like -- as not. I've personally witnessed two such incidents, heard horror stories from reliable sources about others, and read the news stories about pepper spray/arrests in Pt Reyes for no good reason (and no punishment to the LE rangers involved) and the recent taser attack on a dog owner in the GGNRA.

I left the California State Park Ranger corps when the gun nuts came in, and glad I did.

If a park needs policing, then Park Police should be installed. Rangers should range.

I would like to thank Yount's Mule for his perceptive post. As a Law Enforcement Ranger myself for 35 years, now retired, it took me awhile to learn that education is the most important tool we have in most (not all), of our contacts. But once I figured it out, the greatest reward working in parks for me, was meeting the park visitors. Every job in the organization has an important function, it is just a matter of reaching out to all employees, assisting when you can, even if that means picking up some litter, or learning to identify some birds or plants. A LE Rangers job should include visitor contact and education whenever the opportunity presents itself. For those who do not learn that overall mission of the NPS, well, they will find their work less rewarding and successful, at least that was my experience. It is truly disconcerting to see the erosion of the educational function both in the NPS and the nation at large. As Yount's Mule points out, that is the very basis of our democratic system.

Early in my NPS law enforcement career, I had the good fortune to work for a man that required all his LE staff to develop and present at least one interpretive program per month. Part of the reason for this was to provide park LE staff with visitor contacts that were not adversarial, as a reminder that not all park visitors were thoughtless violators of regulations. Another part of the program was to have each of the LE staff develop a better understanding of the significance of that particular NPS area so that they could better educate the public about that significance. We conducted these programs wearing our full LE gear, which also provided the public to see our LE staff as something other than "jack booted federal thugs". Wearing the LE gear also allowed folks to ask questions about LE programs that they would not have asked if they had just seen us on patrol in the area.

For those LE staff in the NPS that don't feel the need for them to do public education, the field level folks anyway, need to review their benchmark position descriptions. Yes, they contain all the stuff necessary for 6(c) LE retirement coverage, but they also line out three main objectives of NPS law enforcement positions. Those objectives are 1) Resource Protection 2) Resource Education 3) Public Use Management

Objective 2 Resource Education means the LE rangers are supposed to "Educate, interpret and inform visitors of the significance and rarity of park resources..." Taken straight from the PD. And, to paraphrase, conduct preventative education to the public inorder to gain compliance by helping the public develop an understanding of the importance of park resources. This requires actually talking to visitors and park neighbors and developing relationships in the area and becoming an advocate for the park and the parks resources. It's not just about writing citations, making arrests and doing secret squirel stuff. All that stuff can be fun, but the most full-filling moments, for me any way, have been those when I have actually been able to have someone look at National Parks and NPS staff in a more positive thoughtful way.

I never met a LE Ranger I thought was like the gestapo! I've always found them to be very professional. Person who said that must have violated park rules.

opps Kurt, forgot to submit my name on the anonymous comment, not that it was any profound post on my part. Also enjoyed the Old Ranger comment,he is right on in my view along with Yount's Mule.

Am finding common ground with these examples of efforts to form meaningful contacts with guests that are amazingly rewarding to both personel and guests. Always filled me up to be a part of something significant and often transformational for a guest. A way to keep the job fresh and meaningful for me also.