National Park Service braces for impact of sequestration

Published by Steve on

Volunteer program will take a hit

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, April 4, 2013

Now that the government sequester is officially in effect, some public agencies are feeling the squeeze.

Sequestration is the automatic spending cut imposed by Congress and the Obama administration that hits a multitude of public sectors in the country.

The National Park Service, which runs the local Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, is one agency feeling pinched.

The recreation area is comprised of more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

David Szymanski, SMMNRA superintendent, said the park system must slash its $8.5-million annual budget by 5 percent, or $427,000, by Sept. 30 to meet the new sequestration law that went into effect March 1.

A wide array of services will be impacted, Szymanski said.

It’s possible that up to nine permanent positions at the park will go unfilled. Two education rangers, a volunteer coordinator, two maintenance posts, two law enforcement jobs and a deputy superintendent are jobs slated to remain vacant.

A chief of administration is retiring in June, and that position as well will probably remain vacant.

National Park Service spokesperson Kate Kuykendall called the loss of the volunteer coordinator and subsequent volunteers a “big issue.”

“We rely heavily on volunteers,” Szymanski said. Nationwide, the park system uses more than 88,000 hours of volunteer service. “Eco-helpers,” volunteers who earn service hours by cleaning up Zuma Canyon and working on restoration programs, will be greatly reduced, he said.

“Because the park’s volunteer manager position is vacant, the park expects to lose about 4,000 hours of volunteer time, valued at $86,000 in staff hours. Volunteers maintain trails, remove garbage and eradicate invasive plants.”

LOCAL IMPACT—National Parks Service ranger Mike Theune tells a large crowd gathered on Saturday for a lecture on “Mulholland, Miller and Motor Sports” about the Paramount Ranch Raceway that operated on the site in the 1950s. The agency is being asked to cut its annual budget by 5 percent.

Youth education programming at the parks is also being squeezed. More than 6,000 students who would typically participate in an educational or service-learning program in the mountains will not do so because of sequestration cuts, Kuykendall said.“ The majority of the affected youth are from und erserved communities in Southern California with limited access to parklands,” she said.

Szymanski said the 40 percent reduction in education programs will hit urban kids hardest. Annually, SMMNRA hosts field trips for 15,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Why is that important?” he asked. “ We need to give all kids a taste of parks, even urban kids . . . from underserved neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Oxnard.”

Park maintenance will also be affected under sequestration. John Williams, the park service chief of maintenance, said he’s not too worried about any impacts this year, but long-term problems could arise.

“We have vacancies that aren’t going to be filled,” Williams said. “We’ve been adjusting the workload, meaning that we’re probably going to be doing a little less work. There might be some long-term ramifications for things that we’re not doing. We’re back to putting out emergencies instead of working on our long-term plan of correct fixes. Basically, there are two ways to do things—the right way or putting a Band-Aid on them.”

Rather than paying for a new roof, an emergency patch might have to suffice, Williams said.

Szymanski doesn’t like the idea of patching problems.

“It’s like your own house. You don’t know when the termites are going to eat through the siding.”

Scheduled repairs will have to wait, and certain jobs may end up costing more when the work comes due, he said. Szymanski also worries about trash buildup in the park recreation area.

“We are so close to urban areas,” he said. “There are a couple of hundred places you can access parks. Unfortunately, people leave things behind. We will see fewer garbage cans.”

The sequestration cuts will require a continued shift from preventive maintenance in order to accommodate more pressing operational needs, Kuykendall said.

Szymanski said the inability of government to compromise reflects a “public and a Congress that are deeply divided about how to tackle the nation’s fiscal problems.”

“It doesn’t mean Congress and the American people don’t like parks,” he said. “Sequestration is not something they would choose (but) they just can’t agree upon an answer. We live . . . within the means Congress provides. This is democracy in action.”


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