SIERRA VISTA — While most concern regarding possible forced budget cuts is focused on the U.S. military — which if sequestration occurs beginning March 1 will take half of the reductions — all federal agencies are facing funding cuts, which will impact employees and services.
In Cochise County, there are three National Park Service (NPS) facilities — The Coronado National Memorial, the Chiricahua National Monument and the Fort Bowie National Historic Site — all facing reduced hours of operation and service, according to the spokeswoman for the three facilities.
Saying she is authorized to talk about the issue based on an approved statement from officials of the NPS, Julena Campbell said the agency “is hopeful Congress is able to avoid these cuts.”
However, Campbell, said like all the federal agencies NPS, is preparing plans in the event sequestration happens.
Visitors should be prepared “for reduced hours and services,” she said.
Throughout the U.S., there are 398 national parks, sites, monuments, memorials, parkways, trails, reserves, lakeshores, recreational areas and battlefields.
Besides Fort Bowie, Fort Huachuca’s Old Post area is designated a historic site by the NPS, but is not supervised by the park service, since the fort is an active military installation.
Campbell said visitors to the three major sites in the county might be impacted by reduced hours at visitor centers, as well as shorter seasons.
Additionally there is a “possibility of closing camping, hiking and other recreational areas when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors,” she said.
“The reductions would limit the NPS’s ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for interpretive programs, maintenance and law enforcement and other visitor services,” Campbell said.
Historically, when it comes to law enforcement, the Coronado National Memorial, which is right on the border, has for many years been an avenue for illegal activities crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, going back beyond alcohol smuggling during the days of Prohibition.
Campbell said local businesses and communities that rely on the recreational aspects of NPS facilities “to support their livelihoods would face a loss of income from reduced visitation.”
According to NPS figures, 280 million people visit the various national complexes each year, and spending by the visitors supports 247,000 non-NPS employees and has a $31 billion economic impact, mostly supporting local economies.
Firefighting may be impacted
The NPS is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior. On Feb. 1, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar responded to a request from Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski as to what forced budget cuts will do NPS.
In a Jan. 22 letter, Mikulski, the chairwoman of the Senate’s Committee on Appropriations, queried federal agencies as to the impact sequestration would have. When it comes to the NPS, Salazar’s said one concern is that forced budget cuts will limit the Interior Department “to sustain seasonal employees needed for firefighting” as well as
other services needed in a variety of functions falling under its responsibility.
In 2011, major fires struck NPS facilities in Cochise County. The Monument Fire, in the Coronado National Memorial, burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed or damaged more than 100 structures, forcing residents to evacuate their homes as the blaze traveled off of Park Service land on to U.S. Forest Service land, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, and on to private lands.
Major fires also struck the NPS’ Chiricahua National Monument.
Fighting these wildfires required not only local firefighters but also teams from the federal government, to include contract firefighting aircraft and many other services.