Fiscal Cliff’s Threat To America’s National Parks

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on November 20 2012 12:50 PM
NPCA_NYT_Ad
NPCA's ad is a plea to prevent budget cuts to the National Park System. NPCA

On Monday, the New York Times featured a full-page ad in its print publication as well as a large “open letter” overlay that covered most of the news outlet’s home page. The ad’s buyer was not a politician, businessman or union leader; it was the National Parks Conservation Association. Why? The fiscal cliff.

The NPCA’s ad featured a “Sorry We’re Closed” sign wrapped around the neck of an antlered ungulate, and its message was clear: If Congress and the president can’t reach a budget deal soon, funding for America’s national parks will be slashed drastically.

The NPCA, which advocates on behalf of America’s 398 national park units, says the ad, the largest to ever run on the front page of NYTimes.com, received some 750,000 impressions on the website Sunday, and it has created as many as 2 million impressions on social media.

Its goal was to make the realities of the fiscal cliff clear.

“Our president and congressional representatives should be among the 95 percent of Americans who care about our national parks,” the organization says. “This is especially important now as debates over the federal budget continue to heat up. National parks protect our natural and cultural heritage and provide affordable vacation destinations for American families, but the Park Service budget has already been cut by 6 percent over the last two years.”

More reductions, it says, would be devastating if the 8.2 percent cuts for “non-defense discretionary funding” take effect in January.

The NPCA’s vision for the parks if Congress fails to find a solution by January is a bleak one: Closed campgrounds, vacant visitor centers and history unpreserved. The Park Service’s budget would be cut by more than $200 million, which could mean some level of closure at virtually every national park in the system, as well as reductions in park hours and the loss of a job for as many as 9,000 rangers.

“We need a balanced approach to addressing the federal budget deficit that accounts for cuts to parks that have already occurred,” the NPCA argues. It figures that the budget for the National Park Service in today’s dollars is already 15 percent less than it was a decade ago.

America’s national parks attract nearly 300 million annual visitors while supporting 258,000 jobs and generating more than $31 billion in private sector spending, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s fiscal cliff report. The NRDC claims the National Park Service does all of this with funding that is just one-fourteenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.

“Avoiding the fiscal cliff will require making tough choices,” NRDC’s David Goldston stated recently, adding that the budget “cannot be balanced by slashing programs that protect our air, water, lands and health.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the U.S. economic output will shrink 3 percent in the first half of next year if the fiscal cliff is not averted. The NRDC and NPCA, however, argue that the small amount of money the federal government would save on the National Park Service is not worth the environmental cost.

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