Law Enforcement, Emergency Safety Net Fraying in U.S. National Parks
WASHINGTON, DC, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - Visitors to America's national parks this summer can expect reduced law enforcement protection, longer emergency response times, fewer lifeguards, scaled back water and trail safety patrols, and dirtier campgrounds, according to a new report by retired National Park Service employees.
The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) surveyed 37 national parks, monuments, lakeshores and historical sites in the National Park System, and conclude that years of underfunding have resulted in "major problems that will be evident this summer."
Bill Wade, a former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park and chair of the CNPSR Executive Council, said, "The budget crisis in our parks is real and it will be felt keenly by park visitors this summer. Nearly all surveyed parks will have fewer law enforcement rangers on the job this summer to protect park visitors and park resources."
For the report entitled "Reality Check: What Visitors to America's National Parks Will Experience During Summer 2006," the CNPSR surveyed 17 parks in detail andreviewed other information such as budget documents for 20 more.
The CNPSR report is released in answer to the National Park Service's promotional campaign, "National Parks: The Place to be for Family Fun in 2006" that makes no reference to problems of visitor safety, reduced emergency response capabilities, service cuts, at-risk natural resources, and crumbling facilities due to budget shortfalls.
"Our intention here is not to be alarmist, but to ensure that American citizens and lawmakers know the facts," Wade said. "Forget about cutting the flesh or any at, we are now cutting deeply into the sinews and bones of our national parks."
The CNPSR survey found shortfalls in park protections across the country.
At the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior in Wisconsin there will be no proactive law enforcement this summer and safety radio dispatch will only be available for limited hours per day five days per week.
Most of the land area of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is Wisconsin's largest federally protected wilderness, named for former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day. Still, no resource protection operations will be taking place this summer, the CNPSR found.
At the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan, rangers cannot patrol remote areas and are "reactive only," the CNPSR learned, and rangers here are not able to mingle with the public or to educate visitors. The water safety program has been reduced to one beach and only three lifeguards.
At Gettysburg National Military Park 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, Maryland, the CNPSR found that ranger patrols have been cut 25 percent.
Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. The Union Army defeated the Confederate Army, ending the second invasion of the North.
Gettysburg National Military Park encompasses nearly 6,000 acres, with 26 miles of park roads and over 1,400 monuments, markers, and memorials.
The coalition says the "reduced law enforcement coverage [is] creating a potential threat to visitors and historic resources."
Gettysburg Park is has lost four permanent positions since fiscal year 2004 and 13 since 2001, including exhibit specialists and preservation workers.
The national park maintenance backlog has increased, says the coalition, pointing to Gettysburg National Military Park as an example. There the amount of needed maintenance left undone has jumped from $36.4 million in 2001 to $49.7 million in 2006.
At Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona and Utah, the CNPSR survey found reduced boat patrols of Lake Powell, reducted backcountry vehicle and San Juan River patrols, and potentially dangerous delays in emergency response times.
The recreation area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, drawing thousands of visitors to explore its scenic vistas, geologic wonders, and a archeological sites.
In Alaska's Denali National Park, there have been cuts in law enforcement and emergency response personnel, even though ambulance runs are up 38 percent in one year due to new visitation patterns, the coalition's survey shows. Few back country patrols are being performed.
The 515 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service (NPS) with a combined 15,000 years of experience.
The coalition includes five former directors or deputy directors of the National Park Service, 24 former regional directors or deputy regional directors, 31 former associate or assistant directors at the national or regional office level, 68 former division chiefs at the national or regional office level, and 128 former park superintendents or assistant superintendents of all political persuasions.
Bill Supernaugh of the CNPSR Executive Council was superintendent of Badlands National Park in South Dakota until he retired from the NPS in November after 38 years with the Service. A second generation NPS employee, Supernaugh grew up in Platte National Park, Joshua Tree, and Organ Pipe where his father was superintendent.
"Reduced seasonal employee hiring contributes directly to increased maintenance backlogs, increased resource crimes, and the increased prevalence of the already shameful number of shabby and ill-kept national park sites and facilities," Supernaugh said.
The CNPSR report details national park budget shifts that are taking place at the expense of leaving key staff positions unfilled.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore lost three permanent and seven term custodial positions, five of which the CNPSR describes as "critical" ranging from bio-technician to law enforcement ranger.
Washington's Olympic National Park is down about 25 positions from three years ago, and at Yosemite National Park, where 45 seasonal rangers once gave presentations talks to visitors, there now are only eight doing so.
At Ozark National Scenic Riverways, 11 positions have been lapsed since fiscal year 2002. The CNPSR reports these positions filled "critical needs covering the full operational spectrum, most in maintenance and law enforcement."
"It is important to understand that there is more to the problems this summer in national parks than a higher level of risk posed to visitors and resources," he said. "Effectively, there is no meaningful preventative maintenance program today in the NPS because very few parks now have the resources to carry out such a program."
"Unfortunately," said Supernaugh, today's preventative maintenance deferral turns into tomorrow's increase in the already multi-billion-dollar NPS maintenance backlog."
Although Congress has increased the National Park Service budget in the past several years, there is still an operating deficit and a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog.
"Congressional budget increases of recent years have been welcome, but these modest hikes have only succeeded in bringing some parks out of the depths of the financial abyss and back to its brink," said Wade. "The sad fact is that these budget add-ons are the proverbial drop in the bucket of at least $600 million in operations funding deficits and an enormous maintenance backlog of up to $7 billion."
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