Besides creating nationwide tax increases, the impending ‘fiscal cliff’ created by budget cut proposals could have a significant affect on National Park Service land and other environmental groups supported by government funding. The budget cuts will take action on January 1st if Congress and the President cannot reach a new deal by the end of the year.
The New York Times recently published a full-page ad, purchased by the National Parks Conservation Association, bringing to the attention of the publication’s 750,000 Sunday readers what is at stake for the National Parks Service (NPS) should the proposed budget go through. The current proposal would cut the NPS 2013 budget by 8.2%, or $218 million. This could result in a reduction of the park’s 258,000 employees, from law enforcement officers to park rangers. The sequester could also force the closures of public venues such as campgrounds, visitor centers, and interpretation sites. The NPS has stated that the budget deficits they are facing are equal to the closure of 200 national parks.
The fiscal cliff will impact more than the NPS, however, and the effects go far beyond a loss in parks jobs and visitor centers. All environmental agencies funded in part by the government will be subjected to budget cuts, and many of these agencies are necessary for local and national economic growth. The National Forest Service, for example, oversees 193 million acres of protected wilderness. The land protected by the NFS, from forests to grassland prairies, supports hundreds of recreational activities. In fact, NFS land brings in $14.5 billion dollars in recreation each year. From camping and hunting supplies to hiking and climbing gear, activities that take place on forest service land provide tremendous economic boosts to local and national retailers.
The budget cuts will also affect the National Wildlife Refuge System, a network of habitats that help protect endangered species throughout the nation. Anyone who hunts migratory waterfowl on NWRS land must purchase a Federal Duck Stamp, which in turn funds wetland conservation and migratory bird protection. A reduction in staff and resources to the NWRS could result in less hunting, which will reduce the funding being funneled towards conservation efforts.
This trickle-down effect can be seen in other agencies threatened by the sequester. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, relies on government funding to conduct research on coastal and oceanic projects, from habitat conservation to weather patterns. NOAA is also one of the main agencies working to restore marine habitats after the BP oil spill, and was involved with tracking and responding to Hurricane Sandy. Budget cuts may force NOAA to lay off employees whose skills and expertise are necessary for national restoration and preservation efforts.
In addition to impacting the NPS, the NWRS, NOAA, and the NFS, these cuts will also heavily impact the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Energy, the US Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, among many others. In a nation where all public land is affected by a government agency in one way or another, these budget cuts could dramatically alter open space as we know it. The effects of the sequester will reach far beyond national parks. They will discourage economic progress in the cities surrounding wilderness areas, and could reduce the scientific and technological resources we need to understand storms and other environmentally devastating disasters. These groups, agencies, and systems are part of a necessary network designed to protect our wild places and the animals that depend on them, as well as our homes, our towns, and our local economies.