Compromise Budget Will Cut $150 Million From National Park Service

A compromise budget bill for Interior will put the National Park Service deeper in the hole/Jennifer Bain file

The National Park Service, already struggling to meet staffing and operational needs, will be saddled with a $150 million cut to its current budget if Congress approves a Senate-House compromise spending plan released by the two chambers’ appropriations committees. Additionally, the bills don’t provide any additional funds to help parks cover a 5.2 percent federal pay raise ordered last year.

“The cuts Congress has proposed will reach every corner of our national parks, which now face even less staff and more delayed repair needs,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said Monday afternoon. “Congress is setting a course to go backwards, which ultimately means less protection for these places and the stories they hold. We can’t expect our national parks to meet their mission and safely welcome millions of visitors with less. Compromise is essential for the success of our country, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our most cherished places and the people who protect them.”

The $150 million cut represents an overall 4.3 percent cut from FY23 funding, and a 1.2 percent (or $35 million) cut in the Park Service’s operations budget.

The spending bill also calls for roughly $71 million in cuts to maintenance and construction budget lines that will delay some projects President Biden had requested in his FY24 budget proposal.

How the Park Service will manage the cuts if approved by Congress remains to be seen, though already visitors have seen cuts to programs as individual parks try to stay within budget. Last year the Blue Ridge Parkway closed a campground roughly two months ahead of schedule because it didn’t have enough staff, and recently a controversy arose at North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington state where officials said they wouldn’t have permanent rangers stationed at Stehekin this coming summer. 

Phil Francis, chair of the executive committee at the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said the cuts come at a “time when we have more parks and more visitors and tremendous needs. We really need to get the budget to help those parks.”

“We’ve been looking for [proper NPS funding] for as long, well, gosh, I worked for 41 years and it’s been 10 years since I retired and I’m still looking for adequate long-term funding for our parks,” said Francis, who ended his Park Service career as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

While he said Congress might be trying to do a good job through compromise, “if we’re having to cut more positions, if we can’t fill positions, instead of having 3,000 vacancies, we’re going to have a good number more.”

Back at NPCA, Pierno noted that, “[T]here’s no denying that this budget deal could have been worse. But that doesn’t change the fact that parks have been struggling for decades, operating with fewer staff and smaller budgets to sustain soaring park visitation, worsening effects of climate change and an increasing backlog of repair needs. Further cuts to funding will only make matters worse, forcing park superintendents to make difficult decisions about how many staff they can employ or what educational programs they can sustain. It also undermines real progress being made to tackle critical maintenance needs at parks across the country.”

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