Jonathan Jarvis sits on a picnic table outside the Lake McDonald Lodge on a near perfect afternoon last week. Behind him, a building has a tarp draped over it because a tree fell and damaged the roof.
The repairs have yet to be made and there might not be enough money to actually make them due to federal budget cuts.
Jarvis rattles off the impacts of the cuts that hit this year and will likely impact budgets next year as well— a $153 million reduction in the Park Service operations budget, a hiring freeze that impacted 900 positions and a thousand seasonal employees who were not hired.
Jarvis was visiting Glacier to meet with the National Parks Foundation Board to go over fundraising strategies for the future and to get a firsthand look at climate change.
“A lot of people stepped up” this year to help fund the nation’s parks, he said.
“That’s not sustainable,” he said in a candid interview. “That’s the bottom line. We muddled through the summer.”
Meanwhile, Glacier is on the cusp of record visitation this summer — visitors that mean millions of dollars to the local economy.
“I would hope Congress would understand the National Park Service is not an expenditure, it’s an investment,” he said.
Jarvis said that every $1 spent on a national park amounted to $4 for the local economy.
Businesses “rely on this park being funded adequately,” he said.
He said if people start to see a declining experience — such as run-down facilities or lack of staffing — “they’re not going to come back.”
This year, the Glacier National Park Conservancy donated about $500,000 to park projects, but for the first time they gave $10,000 toward plowing Going-to-the-Sun Road — a budget item normally covered by the Park.
“It should never fall on the backs of philanthropy to fund the national parks,” Jarvis said.
He said it’s tough for the Park Service to plan a budget as a perpetual organization when it gets annual funding. The budget right now is untenable. He nods to the shed behind him as an example.
“Look, we’re throwing a tarp over it,” he said.
Jarvis also touched on other subjects of Glacier importance.
While noise is one of the main complaints facing Glacier, he said the Park Service has no authority to regulate noise from motorcycles. The park can regulate air tours over the and he noted work has been done in other parks, including Grand Canyon, where air tour operators use helicopters designed to reduce noise.
Glacier’s General Management Plan, written in the late 1990s, calls for phasing out air tours over the park, but that has never happened.
On the subject of climate change, he said the Park Service’s role is to study the science and manage species impacted when possible, but the agency wouldn’t do something on a landscape scale, such as cover a glacier with a tarp to try to preserve it.
It’s estimated the glaciers in Glacier National park will largely be gone in the next 15 to 20 years.
Peterson writes for the Hungry Horse News.