Will your summer vacation, or job, be affected by sequestration? Memorial Day Weekend, the official start of summer, is fast approaching, and with it are millions of trips across the country to visit one of America’s most stunning assets, our national park system. I am lucky enough to have three of them within 90 minutes of where I live. Whether they are those stunning natural wonders of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks, or urban treasures such as the National Mall in DC or Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, the National Park Service (NPS) does an admirable job running hundreds of parks on a shoestring.
But the sequestration cuts are hurting our national parks. Despite the fact defense and entitlements eat up almost two-thirds of the federal budget, the bizarre dance between the Obama Administration and Congressional Republicans have led to budget cuts at the NPS. While a five percent cut may not sound like much–after all no one gets rich working as a park ranger–the cuts have caused chaos within an agency already operating on a shoestring.
As Think Progress writer Jessica Goad pointed out on Wednesday, the small budget allotted to the NPS annually pays big dividends. Congress clearly does not get it, however; during a Tuesday dog and pony show on Capitol Hill titled, “Vacation Nation: How Tourism Benefits our Economy,” plenty of cliche’s were tossed out about collaboration and economic development . . . but no one mentioned the sequestration cuts and their effects on tourism and how they are cutting at the bone, from air travel to road maintenance to, of course, our national parks.
And our national parks are economic engines for many local communities and of course, small businesses, whether they are the diners in 29 Palms near Joshua Tree National Monument or shops renting out winter equipment along the roads leading to Rocky Mountain National Park. Supporting over 250,000 jobs and generating over $30 billion in revenue, $1 of government spending on national parks equals $10 economic activity within the private sector.
The cuts will not affect entrance fees. Instead, fewer staff will be hired, hours of operation will be reduced in parks such as Yosemite and in the urban parks trash collection will occur less regularly. As Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell explained during a recent web chat:
“There is no question that sequestration will impact a visitor’s experience, whether it’s a closed camp ground, the inability to get an expert to help answer their questions, the maintenance that needs to be done.”
And that in turn will have a domino effect on countless small businesses, many of them family run, and many committed to a sustainable and environmentally responsible approach to business and their communities.
Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for this mess. Even if we eliminated the $600 billion outlays for discretionary spending, we would rack up deficits. Nevertheless the fact our leaders (and people who voted for them) are avoiding the hard decisions will lead one of our most important resources to crumble if the sequestration fiasco is not dealt with soon.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credits: Leon Kaye]