Wyoming Delegation Decries National Park Cuts Tactics

By Beacon Staff

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Obama administration is resorting to scare tactics by telling the public that steep budget cuts could result in closures and reduced services at parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton, members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation say.

The president has more discretion to focus spending cuts on wasteful spending than he’s been letting on, Sen. John Barrasso told The Associated Press.

Sen. Mike Enzi accused the administration of “overplaying and dramatizing” to gin people up against cuts. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, meanwhile, said she would keep in mind “the fiscal and moral crisis that is our $16 trillion dollar debt” if the cuts take effect.

White House and Interior Department spokesmen declined to comment Wednesday.

Wyoming’s two popular parks make the state disproportionately affected by a 5 percent cut to the National Park Service budget. Leaked Interior Department memos detail the possible effects once the cuts begin to take effect Friday.

In Yellowstone, spring plowing delays could keep roads closed to automobiles two to four weeks later than usual. In Grand Teton, the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve could be closed, according to one memo from January.

On Tuesday, a report detailing the economic benefits of national parks came out from the Park Service.

Yellowstone got 3.4 million visitors in 2011 — behind only Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemite national parks — who spent $332 million in the area. Grand Teton wasn’t far behind with 2.6 million visitors and they spent $436 million in nearby communities, according to the peer-reviewed report for the Park Service by Michigan State University.

“If these cuts go into effect, it appears they will harm every one of the 398 parks and monuments in the system as well as park rangers, tourism-dependent businesses and communities, and the millions of Americans who rely on national parks for affordable vacations,” warns National Parks Conservation Association President Tom Kiernan on the group’s website.

Wyoming’s Republican leaders are less alarmed while President Barack Obama and congressional leaders look to remain distant on agreeing to a different mix of cuts.

Congress and the administration shouldn’t exempt any particular area but should plan for budget cuts with precision, said Gov. Matt Mead.

“Every state has to make budget choices. Wyoming made strategic reductions in our budget to the tune of 6 ½ percent,” Mead said, referring to state cuts last year. “I do not accept that Congress and the administration should not make the same hard decisions.”

Barrasso and Enzi, too, suggested that the administration could take a more thoughtful approach.

“Instead of prioritizing cuts and targeting wasteful Washington spending, the president chose to put important programs, our national security and our National Park funding in jeopardy,” said Barrasso.

Enzi spokesman Dan Head said cuts are necessary to reduce the $16 trillion national debt.

“It’s tempting for agencies and departments to cut the most public and visible programs to generate news stories and public outcry instead of looking where there is actually room for cuts,” Head said.

The upcoming cuts to all agencies and the military would reduce 2013 federal by 1.2 percent, said Lummis, yet Obama had been “frightening Americans” about their consequences.

She said the cuts are less than the effective 2 percent tax increase Americans are having to pay due to the recent end of a two-year payroll tax break.

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