If Congress doesn’t avert automatic budget cuts by Friday, Yellowstone National Park will be forced to make some changes, but it’s too early to say what they’ll be.
“We were told to look at cutting $1.75 million over the next seven months,” park spokesman Al Nash said. “We face budget challenges on a regular basis, but we’ve not had to face anything like this.”
Yellowstone’s budget for fiscal year 2011 was $35.2 million, so the cut is a reduction of about 5 percent.
The looming sequestration will cut many federal jobs and programs, but national parks are already feeling the pinch. The National Park Service announced a freeze on all new hires and furloughs of employees at parks and landmarks across the nation in anticipation of a budget cut of $110 million.
In a Monday news conference, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis warned that mandatory budget cuts under sequestration will result in reduced hours for visitor centers, shorter seasons and the possible closing of campgrounds, hiking trails and other recreational areas because of staffing.
The majority of the park’s budget is spent during the summer season when the park receives the greatest number of visitors.
The timing is awkward because peak season lands near the end of the federal fiscal year when money is running low, Nash said.
Peak season is when the park hires a lot of seasonal workers, and employee costs are a large portion of the park budget, Nash said.
Now sequestration may throw another wrinkle into the mix.
Nash said he didn’t have the details of the proposal, but the park tried to minimize the effect on visitors, preservation and staff.
While announcing the park’s Winter Use Plan on Friday, superintendent Dan Wenk hinted that some of the park entrances might open later this year if the cuts go through.
If the cuts happen, the park will start making preliminary changes on Monday.
“We remain optimistic,” Nash said. “We are watching the discussion with interest.”