Although the U.S. escaped a government shut-down over the weekend, thus keeping our national forests and parks open, by no means are we out of the woods yet. In fact, the latest show-down was but a mere skirmish for what’s approaching law makers over the next several months.
Our national parks could again be threatened when the U.S. reaches its debt ceiling as early as mid-May. In the next couple of weeks Congress will be forced to reach a compromise between raising its credit limit and making further spending reductions. In September, however, the mother of all budget battles will take place when Congress debates the budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins October 1st. Ironically, this is all fittingly taking place during the 150th Anniversary of the year the Civil War began.
As many of you are already aware, most state budgets are in no better shape. Politicians on all levels of government have pursued policies of irresponsible spending for far too many years, creating unsustainable debt that is now having a profound effect on state parks across the country.
A quick Google search shows a number of states already have, or are looking to close state parks, including Illinois, California, New York, Florida, Minnesota, Washington, Oklahoma, Utah, New Jersey, Arizona and Colorado.
Back in February the governor of North Carolina proposed closing state parks on two days a week in order to make ends meet.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently announced plans to close 23 state forest campgrounds.
Lawmakers in Florida are considering legislation that would allow corporations to advertise on hiking trail signs. In California, Coca-Cola is already funding interpretive signs that include a small corporate logo at the bottom. Virginia, Georgia and New Hampshire have each explored corporate sponsorship ideas over the last year as well.
Idaho's cash-strapped state parks system is also considering corporate sponsorships in order to help keep its parks open - including corporate logos on ranger uniforms.
And then, how about this: Colorado, Pennsylvania and Ohio are currently debating whether to allow gas and oil drilling on state park lands.
Still, many other states are staring in the face of huge budgets cuts that will impact park personnel, park programs, maintenance projects, operating hours and various visitor services and amenities.
For years most people would have assumed that pollution, encroaching development, invasive species, and overcrowding and overuse were some of the most important issues facing our parks. However, the greatest threat to our parks is clearly unsustainable spending that is plunging our country into an overwhelming amount of debt. As I’ve warned in the past, parks will be one of the easiest things to cut during a budget crisis.