Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks face slight decreases in their budgets under President Barack Obama's spending proposal for fiscal year 2012, while North Cascades National Park complex would see a significant increase.
The budget, released Monday, includes $2.9 billion for the National Park Service - an increase of about $140 million over the budget enacted for fiscal year 2010.
“This is about as good as news as we could hope for,” said Dave Uberuaga, superintendent at Mount Rainier, which would receive a 2.03 percent budget cut. “If it stays in the 2 percent range, the public won’t really see any significant difference in operations.”
He stressed that the president’s proposal was just the starting point. Both houses of Congress will come up with their own versions before a final agreement is reached.
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The Mount Rainier management team talked Tuesday about where they could pare costs. Uberuaga said they discussed reducing the size of the park’s vehicle fleet, lowering energy costs through green initiatives, and hiring fewer seasonal employees.
The options are similar for Olympic National Park, Superintendent Karen Gustin said.
“There could be some impact on operations, but what that would look like, who is to say?” she said. “We would look at some of our backcountry efforts, such as patrolling, vehicle use and size, some of the monitoring we do, how many seasonal (employees) we hire.”
In addition to a spending increase, North Cascades National Park complex – which includes the national park, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and Ross Lake National Recreation Area – would add 10 positions for programs under the proposed budget.
Of the $768,000 funding hike, $390,000 would go to fully implement a youth-education program that brings about 20 youths from diverse backgrounds and gives them an opportunity for educational programs, internships and employment. The park began Pathways for Youth in 2009 with three students as a pilot program. In 2010, it was expanded to 18 students.
The idea is to create a constituency of engaged citizens. It starts by creating a connection with public lands when the participants are students and hopefully carries on into their adult lives, no matter what professions they choose, North Cascades Superintendent Chip Jenkins said.
“We have been working with the North Cascades Institute and Student Conservation Association on this,” he said. “The funding would put the program on sustainable footing. We currently are cobbling together project and grant funds from a variety of places.”
The remaining $378,000 would help the park meet the demand for more youth programs in conjunction with the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.
Overall, the 12 National Park Service units in Washington state would receive more than $50.85 million under the proposed budget, an increase of 0.88 percent from current funding levels.
The news is mixed for other federal agencies providing recreational opportunities to South Sound residents.
The president’s request of $1.7 billion for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a net increase of $47.9 million compared with the enacted budget for fiscal year 2010. Among the service’s operations in the area are the Nisqually and Grays Harbor national wildlife refuges.
The U.S. Forest Service request for 2012 is $5.1 billion, a decrease of $179 million from current levels. There are no details on specific funding plans for Gifford Pinchot, Olympic and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie national forests.
Complicating matters for park managers are calls for more cuts in the fiscal year 2011 budget. Congress has yet to approve a final budget. Funding for parks has been maintained at 2010 levels by continuing resolution.
“Right now, we’re struggling with the ‘what if’ scenarios,” Uberuaga said of the uncertainty. “If we go back to the FY 2008 level, it would be a $1 million cut for us.”
The park could deal with a cut like that for one season, he said, but if an extended cut was made, managers “would likely do something different.”
Gustin said Olympic managers are being careful and conservative with spending until a final budget is approved.
“We do the best we can with the resources we have,” she said.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure