In the wake of all the politics of the past few months, there’s been a lot of talk now about a deadlocked Congress and the looming fiscal cliff. The article I found from Google News talks about how this could affect the national park system.
To summarize, unless Congress can come up with some sort of deal, in January the National Park Service would receive $218 million less in federal funding, an 8.2% reduction. That’s the equivalent of closing 150-200 of the nation’s 398 national parks. While that’s just a comparison to emphasize the size of these cuts, it could realistically lead to parks cutting back hours, closing certain days of the week, closing campgrounds and visitor centers, and reducing the number of rangers on duty.
So what does this mean for the parks? The way I see it, it seems to be starting a downward spiral. Cut the funding to the parks, parks cut back hours, less people will be able to visit, and tourists generate less revenue. If there’s not enough money to maintain the parks, the government will be forced to either close some of the parks down or scale back maintenance and upkeep of all the existing ones. This raises the question, which parks do we save? Is it Yosemite or the Everglades? I think it raises this question that we’ve discussed in class multiple times of what exactly it is that constitutes a national park. What qualities must a park have in order to become (or remain) a national set aside space? Is it that something we feel when we’re there that we call the sublime? Is it historical precedent and significance? Is it environmental impact? I don’t know who would make those decisions. It should be someone qualified with a background in nature conservancy or environmental issues, but I’m afraid it would probably be some sort of government official.
Alternatively, maybe it could be a good thing. In one of my previous posts, I talked about how man-made the parks have become. Maybe if there was less funding to maintain the parks as frozen in a moment in time, people would be forced to let nature take over again and the parks would regain a little of their wildness.
The money issue also raises the question of who should fund the national parks. From their very name it’s pretty clear that it has been the national government, but the national government hasn’t been doing so great financially. Maybe they aren’t the best ones to make decisions as far as that’s concerned. If state governments or private entities could manage some of the parks, it might help offset the costs and lessen the blow of the financial cutbacks. But this delegation would raise even more questions. To what degree would the state or private sector have control over the park? Would it allow for private agendas to interfere with nature? This is an especially sensitive issue lately when there’s so much focus on oil and becoming independent from foreign countries.
I’m not entirely sure what the focus of my article is. I think because of the nature of the upcoming budget problems and the government itself, it tends to raise more questions than it answers. Who should manage and fund national parks? What role should the government play? If we had to choose, which national parks are worth saving?
Just an afterthought: As I was writing this, I noticed a post that ties in together well with these ideas and questions about government. Government to Protect National Parks?