Sequester 2013: How Spending Cuts Could Affect the Outdoors

It was only a short while ago when words like “Fiscal Cliff”, “Sequestration” and “Deficit-Reduction” were abstract concepts. Now, these words are unavoidable.

After months of political banter, Washington’s final step in its “balance-the-budget” efforts is scheduled to take effect. While Congress and President Obama did ultimately come to a decision regarding the tax hikes needed to avoid default (aka the Fiscal Cliff), the President insisted that the automatic spending cuts be delayed til a later date in hopes of a more reasonable way to cut spending. Well, that date is here: March 1st.

An automatic 85 billion dollar spending cut could go into effect soon and many are concerned about the impact that such drastic spending cuts will have on a recovering economy. Naturally, both sides of the aisle have their ideas of what a responsible sequester should look like. One things is for sure: with a figure as large as 85 billion (that’s nine 0′s), even the outdoorsperson will feel the impact. Let’s take a look at what how.

National Parks
Across-the-boards budget cuts means that visitors to any one of our nation’s 398 beautiful National Parks will experience a less safe environment. In Yellowstone National Park, a cut in funding means fewer employees to clean up trash, resulting in an increase of bear activity in close proximity to campsites.

We are not the only ones that enjoy the beautiful American landscapes. Studies show that a fifth of all tourists that come to the US choose one of our parks as their destination. Less up-keep to our parks could reciprocate to diminished tourism rate, specifically effecting nearby communities that rely on the revenue drawn from visitors.

Park authorities from all over the US, in anticipation and concerned that budget cuts will affect their basic functioning ability, have initiated hiring-freezes. Furthermore, many park managers are considering furloughs for permanent employees as a means of coping with the cuts.

Starting in March, the Parks Department’s 2.9 billion dollar budget will be cut progressively over the following seven months. For parks like Yellowstone, the timing could not be worse. During the summer months, many parks experience up to 10 times the traffic than they do during rest of the year. Less funding and fewer utility personel amounts to unkept roads and pathways scattered across our nation’s parks.

If these cuts reach fruition, Grand Teton’s Jenny Lake Visitor Center in Wyoming may be forced to close it’s doors to the nearly 300,000 visitors -and their quarter of a million dollars- who visit every year.

Even visitor safety has little hope of escaping the slashing. In California, the Sequoia Grove guided ranger tours are expected to be cut, leaving sensitive plants subject to the 3,500 unaccompanied visitors the park sees every year.

Less Accurate Weather Forecasting
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the Department of Commerce, is perhaps most known to the public for information it provides through the National Weather Service. According to a letter written by Rebecca Blank, the Deputy Secretary of the DoC, addressing the Appropriations committee of the damage that the sequester would have, she said,

“…these cuts would negatively impact the ability for NOAA to effectively provide the products and services communities have come to rely upon.”

Some of these products include weather satellites that provide the public (like TV stations, the weather man, and yes, predictions of the snow) with quality weather forecasts and warnings. You know – all the “advisory” versus “warning” versus “watch” stuff. They’d have to furlough 2600 jobs from their department which means good luck trusting what the weather man says.

Increased Air Pollution
Perhaps the reason we don’t have smog clouds that are visible from space like in China, is because the Environmental Protection Agency has critical air-monitoring sites that provide data when pollution is too high. Well, get ready to say goodbye to a handful of those sites come Friday. Other hits to the EPA include the furlough and layoff of “environmental cops” —  inspectors who enforce environmental laws to law breakers and cutting inspections of power plants, oil refineries, and other big polluters. The winner here: the polluters. The loser: us.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, March 1st may bring many unfortunate effects to those involved in the outdoors. This 85 billion dollar cut’s reach will extend far past education, defense, and medical care. It will affect the natural beauty that makes up our nation’s identity.

So when the frustration of a financially uncertain future becomes too much, you couldn’t possibly listen to grandma’s moans about her social security check any longer, and the perpetual cost increase of a tank of gas has you pulling your hair out, wouldn’t it be nice to spend a couple days in the most beautiful scenic areas in North America?

I think so. So ask questions, become informed, and make a difference. The outdoors depend on it.



Written by Alec Ross