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As summer approaches, the time when millions of vacationers head for America’s national parks—including our own Yellowstone and Glacier—here are some disturbing facts to ponder:

The operating budget of the National Park Service, adjusted for current dollars, has dropped about 20 percent in the past 25 years.

The Park Service has only about one interpreter for every 100,000 park visitors.

Parks across the country are closing visitor centers and cutting ranger-led educational programs because of insufficient staffing and funding.

That’s all included in a new report titled “Endangered Rangers” by the National Parks Conservation Association, which urges Congress to increase funding for the parks by at least $600 million a year.

Yellowstone’s visitation has risen 50 percent since 1980, yet the park’s inflation-adjusted budget increase has been only $3.4 million, the report states. Insufficient staffing means Yellowstone’s backcountry is left vulnerable to poaching, and the park is able to provide only 6 percent of its 2.8 million annual visitors with an educational experience.

Glacier’s operating budget suffers an annual shortfall of more than $4 million, according to the report. Only 8 percent of the park’s 1.6 million yearly visitors have the opportunity to participate in a formal, interactive outdoor educational experience because of lack of staff.

Just one person is now assigned to monitor, catalog, maintain and preserve Glacier’s entire museum, library, photography and archive collections.

The report details numerous problems caused by staff shortages elsewhere. Illegal drugs are smuggled through Coronado National Memorial in Arizona, black bears are killed for profit at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and rare plants are ripped from the ground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

As the report was released last week, we also learned that the National Park Service doesn’t want us to know about cuts in services. According to internal agency e-mail that made its way to the media, park superintendents are being told to “use the terminology of ‘service level adjustment’” rather than budget cuts.

Those tricky government bureaucrats, they’ve certainly pulled the wool over our eyes.


Always a privilege to report on other media organizations—especially a cable network that has proven to be inspirational to so many. C-SPAN recently awarded 25 folks across the country $250 each for sharing their perspectives—via 300-word personal essays—on how C-SPAN changed their lives. We may all be able to relate, but it’s our almost-very-own Cameron Lawrence, a visiting assistant professor at the business school at the University of Montana, who snagged an award for his tale. It deserves a bit of reprinting. “C-SPAN,” begins the essay, “which I learned about in 1991, has helped me to make a major transition in life.” Gripping. Among the arresting testimony that follows: After some of Lawrence’s co-workers and pals died smoke-jumping, he knew he had to return to college, he says. “When I elected to return to the academy, I did so with a fully engaged mind and a singularity of purpose that was inspired by the writers featured on Booknotes…I owe a special thanks to the Booknotes’ authors who unwittingly encouraged a young smokejumper in Missoula, Montana, to take intellectual leaps, instead of leaping out of perfectly good airplanes.”

Lawrence read his essay on C-SPAN on March 18, and the company promises to broadcast his and other essays periodically throughout the year. Don’t touch that dial.

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