TUCSON – As Congress appropriated the recently approved federal budget last week, the National Park Service saw a funding boost to pre-sequester levels. A new Environment Arizona analysis, entitled Death by a Thousand Cuts, looks at the challenges extensive cuts gave parks like Grand Canyon, and how Petrified Forest and Saguaro National Parks could benefit from additional funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“Under the sequester cuts at Grand Canyon National Park, summer hours were reduced at the visitor center and the park implemented a hiring freeze. Twenty-five positions went unfilled. We’re glad to say that with the leadership of Representative Grijalva and others, our parks will no longer be suffering death by a thousand cuts,” said Environment Arizona’s Bret Fanshaw.
Other Arizona parks also faced hardships during the sequester cuts, including Petrified Forest National Park, which was unable to fill key staffing positions this past summer – including an interpretive ranger and a budget analyst.
House and Senate Appropriations committee chairs announced last week that they agreed on how to allocate the over $1 trillion in federal spending for the coming fiscal year. The deal included $2.6 billion for the National Park Service, restoring funding to park operations to pre-sequester levels.
"Cutting funding to parks hurts jobs, reduces public access and sets back the cause of national conservation," said Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. "This isn't a partisan issue except in Washington - governors, state legislators and local leaders of every political stripe understand the need for functioning parks that bring tourists and protect our most sensitive landscapes. Everyone remembers what happened during the government shutdown. Instead of repeating our mistakes, let's increase funding to our parks and build our nation's environmental legacy."
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a key program for expanding and protecting National Parks, was funded at $306 million. This fell short of President Obama’s budget of $600 million for the program. As a result, many projects – including needed purches from willing sellers of lands inside the boundaries of Petrified Forest National Park and Saguaro National Park - will not occur in the near future.
“Recent unbiased polling shows that more than 90% of all voters – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – support funding our National Parks,” said Kevin Dahl, Senior Program Manager for National Parks Conservation Association. “Without adequate funding, which is a very small percentage of our national budget, parks have a hard time protecting resources and providing quality visitor experiences. In Arizona, the parks have immediate unmet needs – such as rebuilding the vital water system that supplies the Grand Canyon’s South Rim or stopping the threat that invasive buffelgrass that if unchecked will take over, cause wildfires, and destroy the iconic cactus forest at Saguaro National Park. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be the best possible stewards of our park system, which has been rightly called America’s Best Idea.”
“Thanks to members of Congress like Rep. Grijalva, our parks will get a fresh start in 2014,” said Fanshaw. “But to look forward requires us to look backward. For this and the next generation of Americans let’s pledge to fully fund our parks, not only this year but for many years to come.”