Cantwell: Sequestration Threatens National Parks, Washington Jobs
Cantwell asks Park Service Director about cuts’ impact to Mount Rainier, Olympic and other National Parks
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) highlighted the threat of sequestration and budget cuts to Washington state’s $11.7 billion outdoor economy and the communities near its 13 national parks.
Washington’s national parks are crucial to the state’s outdoor economy with more than 7.5 million visitors each year. Yet budget and sequestration cuts have caused parks to reduce public services and accessibility. During the hearing, Cantwell questioned National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis about the impact of sequestration on National Parks in Washington state.
“We have 13 national parks, three of them ‘crown jewels’ in Washington state,” Cantwell said to Jarvis. “We have visitors producing $261 million and thousands of jobs across our state. If the sequester continues, it’s a $153 million impact to the National Park Service across the country, and we’ve already had over a million dollars of impact that we’ve had to absorb from Mount Rainier since 2010 that is affecting visitors.
“When I look at some of these gateway towns that are part of this, everything from Port Angeles to Eatonville, I keep thinking what’s the economic impact of this going to be because we don’t get a budget deal?” Cantwell asked.
In his response, Jarvis said, “Every park in the system had to take a 5 percent cut. I was not given the authority to take that off the top, or take it out of LWCF, or any other account. Every account took a 5 percent hit. And as you know every park in the system is lined in the budget. So there were direct effects. There were late season openings, there were reduced operation hours, fewer rangers, fewer rangers to fight fire, fewer rangers for search and rescue.”
On March 23, Senator Cantwell voted to pass the Senate budget, which would replace sequestration with a balance of spending cuts and revenue.
Since 2010, Mount Rainier National Park has absorbed more than $1 million in budget and sequestration cuts. These have delayed the opening of campgrounds and caused the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center to not open for the summer. Cuts at Olympic National Park Budget have closed restrooms, and reduced trash collection and campground maintenance.
In 2011, Mount Rainier National Park attracted more than 1 million visitors who supported $31.4 million dollars in economic activity. Olympic National Park attracted nearly 3 million visitors who generated $105.6 million dollars in economic activity.
“These are huge economic resources,” said Cantwell. “I hope that we will track as a committee these gateway communities, the local economic impact of what sequestration is doing. I think we have to be very smart about living within our means but as you pointed out sequestration’s impact is across the board, and not giving you the flexibility to do something that might have less impact on those local communities.”
Cantwell also noted in today’s hearing how creating new National Parks at historic sites like Hanford’s B Reactor could support tourism and economic development.
The Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau estimates that B Reactor tourism will bring more than $1 million to the local economy in direct visitor spending annually. The Department of Energy expects 10,000 people to visit the B Reactor this year. Since opening to the public for the first time, more than 20,000 visitors have toured the B Reactor from all 50 states and more than 48 countries.
Cantwell introduced the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act earlier this year with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tom Udall (D-NM). The bill would create a National Historical Park at Manhattan Project-related sites such as Hanford’s B Reactor as well as Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M. A National Historical Park designation would give Hanford sites the same status as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.
A transcript of Cantwell’s statements and questions follows.
Senator Maria Cantwell: While we’re having this big discussion, and I think it’s an important discussion, I look at this as an immediate impact that my constituents are feeling and our economy is feeling because of the sequester. So while I’m glad to have this discussion, I look at it and say we have 13 national parks, 3 of them ‘crown jewels’ in Washington state.
We have visitors producing $261 million and thousands of jobs across our state. If the sequester continues, it’s something like a $153 million impact to the National Park Service across the country, and we’ve already had over a million dollars of impact that we’ve had to absorb from Mount Rainier since 2010 that is affecting visitors.
When I look at some of these gateway towns that are part of this, everything from Port Angeles to Eatonville, I keep thinking what’s the economic impact of this going to be because we don’t get a budget deal? I look at the something like 227,000 jobs in Washington state that are related to the outdoor recreation industry. So for some of my colleagues, this conversation about the future and road maintenance is a question – and certainly one I have a disagreement point on, and I’ll come to it in a second – but my immediate question is: what economic impact is all of sequestration having on the economy of Washington state where national parks and outdoor recreation are a key part of our economy?
So I don’t want to lose sight of that. I hope you would enlighten us on what sequestration is doing now, and what can we do in the future to lessen an economic impact that is being felt and will continue to be felt, and what do you think we can do to help get our colleagues to understand the situation?
The second point is: my colleague Senator Alexander and I have been sponsors of the creation of a new park for the B Reactor. It’s celebrating scientific excellence that our country achieved and preserving that between the Department of Energy and the department.
Do I think we should stop creating national parks because what somebody thinks about the maintenance backlog? No. I want to commemorate what happened at Hanford and various parts of what we’ve done across the country. I certainly am not going to have the attitude that we’re not going to do any new park until the maintenance backlog is caught up.
And so I guess I just believe our generation’s challenge is to be good stewards. These are our decisions forever and ever. These are our decisions to be good stewards for the next generation. So I would hope you comment on: (1) the continuation of the B Reactor Park, and (2) the economic impact that we are seeing from sequestration on our national parks and what else we can do to help our colleagues illuminate that it really will impact jobs and impact small-town economies across our country.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Honorable Jonathan B. Jarvis: Thank you, Senator Cantwell.
Let’s start with sequestration. The 5 percent cut that we took in March of this fiscal year resulted in a $130 million cut to the operations and responsibilities of the National Park Service, half-way through the fiscal year. And just as the summer season was beginning in most of our national parks.
So the net result of that on the ground is we had a hiring freeze. We withheld the hiring of 900 permanent positions and 1000 seasonals. So there was a direct effect. Every park in the system had to take a 5 percent cut. I was not given the authority to take that off the top, or take it out of LWCF, or any other account. Every account took a 5 percent hit. And as you know every park in the system is lined in the budget. So there were direct effects. There were late season openings, there were reduced operation hours, fewer rangers, fewer rangers to fight fire, fewer rangers for search and rescue.
I was in the Tetons this week, talked directly to the rangers, and their visitation is up, rescues are up, numbers of seasonals and rangers are down. In maintenance specifically, I gave you the number of $444 million that is currently available in our operating budget that is currently available for maintenance. I didn’t mention that that was actually reduced to $416 million by sequestration. So all of our operating accounts that would be applied to deferred maintenance were hit at the 5 percent level as well, so about a $27 million direct hit from sequestration.
My theory on new units is that history doesn’t stop just because you have an economic challenge. The National Park Service has been challenged and charged by this body for almost 100 years to take care of not only the extraordinary the crown jewels such as the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons, and Yosemite, but also historical sites that are representative of the full American experience.
And that story is incomplete. The B Reactor is a perfect example of that, in that it tells an incredibly important story about this country and its leadership and the development of the atomic bomb and its role in ending World War II. It is the same thing with Harriet Tubman or the story of Fort Monroe in Virginia.
Now, what’s different about these new sites is that the National Park Service goes into it knowing we have extraordinary economic challenges, so we look for partners. And certainly with the B Reactor, we have the Department of Energy, we have the communities and others to work with us. We go in and attempt to minimize the direct responsibilities of the National Park Service that would add to our maintenance backlog, but recognize we also want to be a part of the stories that tell the American experience.
Cantwell: Mr. Sherman, my time is expired, but I want to point out last time I visited Grand Teton I was so surprised walking down the street how little English I heard being spoken. We think of these as our crown jewels, but this is an international tourist area that supposedly generates $436 million of benefit to the local economy. So these are huge economic resources. I hope that we will track as a committee these gateway communities, the local economic impact of what sequestration is doing. I think we have to be very smart about living within our means but as you pointed out sequestration’s impact is across the board, and not giving you the flexibility to do something that might have less impact on those local communities. I thank the Chairman. I thank Director Jarvis.
Cantwell: A land acquisition on the Carbon River basically allowed us to expand Mt. Rainier. But why did we do it? Because it kept getting washed out so the access and entry point kept getting washed out. We kept coming to Congress asking for about $230,000 dollars every four or five years. So by doing that land acquisition we were able to move that entry point to a higher level, and solve the problem, so I certainly agree with your point.
Senator Ron Wyden: I would also note, by way of doing a little advertising as well, that Senator Cantwell’s bill on the B Reactor is right now part of the hotline underway. Senator Cantwell’s bill, and Chairman Doc Hastings, and Senator Alexander, and Senator Heinrich, so urge all colleagues on both sides of the aisle to clear this very fine piece of legislation.
Senator Martin Heinrich: Mr. Chairman, I also want to thank Senator Cantwell for bringing up the Manhattan proposed park. I think that’s something that I heard consistently from the community of Los Alamos and the surrounding communities, how important that is to their history. I think Director Jarvis will find a very willing partner in those communities, to make sure that we do a good job of stewarding that resource and making sure the Park Services has the resources they need and the support they need in the community to create that new park unit.
I want to thank Senator Cantwell for bringing up the issue of just how important these recreation jobs are. In New Mexico it is not inconsequential to have 68,000 jobs tied directly to outdoor recreation, and certainly the impact of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. Places like Bandelier, next to Bandelier National Monument, these are major draws to people across the country and around the world that come to New Mexico and drive our local economy.
Next Article Previous Article