More Bucks From Congress if it’s a Park; What’s Up with That?

All US tax dollars come from the same source, the US taxpayer. In a couple of recent instances, people are sure that putting an area under the Park Service would get them more funds to do a better job of management.

Here are two examples, in Southern California here
“Diverse support shown for National Park Service proposal for San Gabriel Mountains, River” and here for the Valles Caldera.

The economic benefits of consolidated management of both the Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandelier National Monument is one of several reasons the preserve should be taken over by the National Park Service, according to a recent study.

Caldera Action, which advocates for increased public access to the preserve, is touting an analysis from The Harbinger Consulting Group that, according to Caldera Trust Executive Director Tom Ribe, “produced more dramatic findings than we expected in terms of impact to the local economy.”

Harbinger says a Park Service takeover would net the Valles Caldera millions more in revenue.

The preserve was created by Congress in 2000 as a kind of private-public management experiment. It is now run by the Valles Caldera Trust, with a board appointed by the president and which has been charged with making the preserve a financially self-sustaining operation.

That, however, isn’t likely to happen. Other studies have shown the preserve won’t make nearly enough money to meet the federal requirement that it break even by 2015. The preserve’s annual operating budget is about $3.5 million; the trust typically raises, through grazing contracts and recreation fees, about $800,000 per year.

“Through fees and commercial resource management, the Trust has made gains in recovering some of the costs of managing the Preserve, but by all accounts, that experiment has not succeeded and is unlikely to do so,” the Harbinger report says.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall have been making this argument since at least last year, when they introduced legislation to fold the Valles Caldera into the National Park Service.

The report backs them up, saying National Park Service management would provide “more stable long-term benefits, more reliable resource protection, and superior visitor experiences.” Key findings in the study include:

Under NPS management, the preserve would support over $1 million more in sales to local businesses and nearly 50 more local jobs than it would if managed by the Forest Service with a similar operating budget and staff.
NPS management would generate in excess of $110 million in local economic benefits over the first 15 years.
In 2016, NPS operation of the preserve would be expected to support 202 local jobs, nearly $8 million in wages and $11 million in economic activity. And between 2012 and 2016, construction projects on the preserve could support an average of 50 local jobs per year.
Consolidated NPS management of the preserve and neighboring Bandelier National Monument would attract more visitors to the preserve and improve the visitors’ experience at both sites. Consolidation would also boost efficiency and create consistent policies and programs.
The National Park Service is more likely than the U.S. Forest Service to maintain a high and consistent level of funding, staffing, visitor services and resource protection.

Part of the reason NPS stands to make more money with the preserve than the Forest Service is that the Park Service would probably invest more money in the preserve upfront. “With a small number of notable exceptions,” the study notes, “the Forest Service does not tend to put in place the same level of infrastructure and visitor services typically associated with NPS units.”

Based on plans already presented by the Valles Caldera Trust, the analysis says a likely scenario for the preserve would include the addition of a main visitors center overlooking the Valle Grande, a loop drive with interpretive signs, a full slate of interpretive and educational programming, more trails and trailhead facilities, and one or two small campgrounds on the preserve.

The Park Service is more likely to raise the funds for these projects because of its budget process, the report says. NPS requests annual appropriations by line item for each of its parks — a certain amount for a particular park’s visitors center, for example. The Forest Service, on the other hand, receives appropriations for broad functional categories like fire-fighting, and has to spread those funds out among its areas.

Plus, the Park Service is a draw in itself, much more so than the Forest Service, according to the analysis. Informal surveys of visitors to attractions managed by the National Park Service have shown that “many travelers (especially international visitors) use the NPS website to help plan their visits,” the report says. “Over time, the Preserve would become widely known as part of the NPS system, and word of mouth from other parks in the region could encourage even more visitors to Bandelier and Valles Caldera.”

The bill to put the Valles Caldera under management of NPS has gotten a hearing in Congress’ Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Bingaman chairs, but has not advanced.

In a statement, Bingaman said, “The National Park Service is best suited for the long-term management of the Valles Caldera as it has a long history of protecting unique cultural and natural resources, while also increasing tourism to our nation’s crown jewels.”

For those curious about the study and the assumptions therein, here is a link to the study.

Maybe it’s time to consider changing the budget structure of the Forest Service to be unit by unit- or somehow otherwise equilibrating the budgets among agencies for equivalent kinds of activities. Perhaps there is something about lobbying for a park or for parks; that lobbying for a “fuels treatment” line item across the country doesn’t have the same resonance.

Perhaps, if a place is special, then it belongs best at the Park Service.. otherwise if it’s forested, the Forest Service and if not, the BLM. Maybe it’s time to put all federal lands together under one budget process and approach (if not department). Otherwise, there is likely to be increasing amounts of transferring as local areas try to increase their funding- with the transfers themselves incurring additional costs.

3 thoughts on “More Bucks From Congress if it’s a Park; What’s Up with That?”

  1. This reported today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:

    “Earlier this month, the Seattle Times reported a disturbing story about David Uberuaga, the new Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, one of the crown jewels of the national park system. It has not gotten the attention it deserved.

    The gist of the story is that in his previous posting as Superintendent of Mt. Rainier National Park, Uberuaga –

    • Sold his home for more than three-times its assessed value to the owner of the multi-million dollar concessionaire which had a monopoly on the park’s climbing guide business;

    • Never recused himself from dealing with the company even while its owner was paying Uberuaga $425,000 for his bungalow – a price called “crazy high” by investigators; and

    • Failed to disclose the transaction on conflict-of-interest forms.

    After the Justice Department declined prosecution in 2010, National Park Director Jon Jarvis, a previous Mt. Rainier superintendent who helped Uberuaga ascend the NPS career letter, issued his protégé a reprimand. Shortly thereafter, Uberuaga was promoted to take over Grand Canyon, the concessionaire cash cow of the system. What the Seattle Times did not report was that –

    • Jarvis intervened in the selection process, after another candidate was told by the Regional Director the job was his. Jarvis made sure Uberuaga got the job;

    • Jarvis’ older brother Destry is a consultant to a major Grand Canyon concessionaire, the motorized rafters – an area in which Director Jarvis has not recused himself; and

    • Director Jarvis is working to set up a billion dollar endowment, largely from corporate donors, to be distributed at his discretion.

    Jon Jarvis refused interview requests from the Seattle Times and instead sent an agency flack to issue the following statement with not only a straight face but with a tiny hint of indignation:

    “Even the appearance of a conflict of interest is unacceptable” in NPS.

    What a crock. The Director of the Park Service is awash in both the appearance and the actuality of conflicts – and he knows it.”

  2. Students of the Forest Service older than I remember that Congress used to fund on a national forest-by-national forest basis at least into the 1950s. Why the change? Likely to facilitate increased logging. Timber purchasers pushed for a stronger Washington Office that could impose and enforce timber production targets. Those are more readily achieved with functional budgeting, instead of geographic allocations.

    Since its genesis, FSEEE has supported a return to forest-by-forest, lump-sum budgets. The most formidable opponents to such a change are the Forest Service’s functional bureaucracies at the Washington and regional office levels. These are the offices that have prospered (relatively speaking) with functional budgeting.

    • Does FSEEE ( or others out there) have a briefing paper on this, or more on the history of the budget approach?

      I remember on the Ochoco during the Pilot period in the 80’s we had a “bucket o’money”. While this worked very well for us, there seemed to be concerns about trust and accountability.

      I know some collaborators share the concern about line items, that they collaborate on projects and then the right color of money doesn’t necessarily show up in the budget to get the project done.


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