National parks brace for sequester cuts

5:26 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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Bradenton, Florida -- As you get ready to see the sights for spring break or a summer trip, you'll see fewer guides and staff at the country's national parks including the 15 here in Florida like De Soto National Memorial.

The regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association tells 10 News you may have a lower quality experience with the reduced services thanks to the five percent budget cuts.

Though no employees will be furloughed, there is a hiring freeze, so existing staff will have to make up the slack for the vacant positions.

About 90 percent of the main operating budget pays the guides to engage guests, visitor center workers, and even law enforcement.

In South Florida, Everglades will not hire for 17 vacant positions to maintain the $16 million budget. That means many people will be doing the work of several. There is another budget for construction projects. 

These are all the National Parks in Florida:

Big Cypress National Preserve
Biscayne National Park
Canaveral National Seashore
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
De Soto National Memorial
Dry Tortugas National Park
Everglades National Park
Florida National Scenic Trail
Fort Caroline National Memorial
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor
Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve

Here is a related story from our partners at USA TODAY

National park supervisors are preparing to open roads later, close visitor centers, furlough park police and hire fewer seasonal workers to meet the 5% sequestration budget cuts mandated by Congress and President Obama.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis issued a memo Friday stating that about 1,000 fewer seasonal workers will be hired this year, down from 10,000 last year. In a memo to Park Service employees, he said furloughs should be expected among park police, and that a $12 billion backlog in park maintenance will worsen.

There were an estimated 279 million visitors to national parks in 2011, the last year figures were available. Visitors this year are already seeing sequestration-related cuts; at some sites, the 5% reduction will be less obvious right away:

-- The National Capital Region, which oversees parks and Civil War battlefields in and around Washington, D.C., is contemplating everything from less lawn-mowing and garbage pickup in Rock Creek Park to limiting hours of, or closing altogether, the visitor center at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, according to Park Service spokeswoman Jennifer Mummart. She said the region may hire only half the 400-450 seasonal employees it normally does.

-- At the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, Superintendent George Price said park oversees are contemplating closing the Province Lands Visitor Center, which was visited by 260,000 tourists during the summer last year. The number of seasonal hires will probably be reduced by 22 from the 150-200 normally hired, Price said.

-- At the Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming, the Park Service is contemplating closing three of five visitor centers, and cutting seasonal hires from 180 last year to about 150 this year. "Intense management meetings" are underway to "nail down what we will have to do without," Grand Tetons spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

-- At Yellowstone National Park, where 3.4 million people visited last year, snow-plowing that is necessary to open the park has already been delayed by two weeks, until next Monday. Park officials hope that more snow will melt to save the $10,000 a day it costs to plow the vast park's roads and entrances. "Our goal is to have minimal impacts on visitors," Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said. But he said that park officials will have to hire fewer seasonal workers, which will mean "fewer maintenance staff, fewer law enforcement rangers, fewer interpretive rangers."

-- In Alaska, Denali National Park Superintendent Don Striker, who has been on the job less than two months, said he expects to meet his 5% cuts by freezing hiring. He is not filling positions for park historian and head of information technology and a half dozen in maintenance but said that others, like search and rescue personnel, won't be affected. But Striker said going without IT support can only last so long, and that "you can delay cleaning out gutter for while, but if you do it too long you lose the roof.

"We are going to be OK in the short term but less okay as the months stack up," he said.

Striker said he is more worried about the prospects of a government shutdown if Congress and Obama can't come to an agreement by March 27, when a temporary budget agreement is set to expire. Late March is when he and superintendents in many parks hire seasonal workers, and Striker said uncertainty then could be far more difficult than dealing with 5% cuts today.

Jarvis instituted a travel ban for the Park Service for March, and said a hiring freeze would remain on about 900 unfilled permanent positions. The NPS has about 15,000 permanent employees.

"Every activity will be affected" by the 5% cuts, he wrote, from controlling invasive species to police work.

The Park Service's $2.86 billion annual budget has remained relatively flat since 2008.

Chuck Raasch, of USA TODAY contributed to this story.

10 News & USA Today

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