Gazette opinion: Beautiful arguments against across-the-board cuts

2013-02-06T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Beautiful arguments against across-the-board cuts The Billings Gazette
February 06, 2013 12:10 am

For all who have been wondering exactly what “sequestration” means for Montana and Wyoming, the question has been answered.

If the federal budget sequestration occurs, possibly on March 1, Yellowstone National Park will lose $1.8 million and Glacier National Park will lose $682,000. That money would come out of the parks’ budgets for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.

The loss to Montana and Wyoming would be much greater, because the parks are the engines driving regional tourism.

A Michigan State University study of national park economic impact found that in 2010:

- Yellowstone visitors spent $334 million in surrounding communities and supported 4,881 jobs in communities within 60 miles of the park.

- Glacier visitors spent almost $110 million and supported 1,695 jobs, according to the study.

- Altogether, 281 million national park visitors spent $12 billion in 2010 in communities surrounding national parks. That’s a whopping return for the $2 billion the U.S. government spent on the parks.

Sequestration would cut $110 million from the National Park Service budget for 400 park sites nationwide. That cut would be on top of 6 percent in Park Service cuts over the past two years.

“We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources and government asset,” Park Service Director Jon Jarvis wrote in a Jan. 25 memo.

“If this budget proposal comes to pass, the visiting public will see the results right away,” Mick Holm, former Glacier superintendent told the Missoulian. “There will be direct impacts because the only alternative is to cut back hours, cut back staff, stop cleaning restrooms, offer less services.”

Holm said there already are fewer rangers in Glacier than when he was superintendent in 2002-2008.

“The mood in the parks is that employees are scared,” Joan Anzelmo told the Casper, Wyo., Star-Tribune. “They may be furloughed for a long period of time.”

Anzelmo worked in Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks before serving as superintendent at the Colorado National Monument. She is retired from the Park Service. The reason why the Star-Tribune and Missoulian quoted former and retired Park Service officials is troubling. The National Park Service is under a gag order, according to the Casper newspaper. Current park officials can’t speak out.

Montanans and Wyomingites deserve to know how this Washington, D.C., budget gimmick will affect their lives and livelihoods. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in both states. Yellowstone, Glacier, Little Bighorn National Battlefield and other federal recreational lands are a major reason people choose to live in our great states.

Across-the-board budget cuts are a terrible idea that reward inefficiency and penalize the services that already are most efficient.

We call on Montana and Wyoming delegations to work for urgent solutions to stave off cuts that will hurt our regional economy. Instead, Congress and President Barack Obama need to identify spending that is wasteful and target that for elimination. Deficit reduction attempts that reduce major economic activity are counterproductive — especially in the aftermath of the great recession.

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