Montana senators vow to fight for Park Service funding

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A National Park Service worker takes a sledgehammer to a rock in the middle of the Avalanche Lake trail in Glacier National Park on May 8. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

Under the federal budget proposal released by President Donald Trump last month, the National Park Service would be facing substantial funding cuts, but both of the state’s senators say they’ll fight to maintain current spending levels for the agency that oversees Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

Trump’s proposal for the 2018 fiscal year amounts more to a presidential wishlist for federal spending, as responsibility for crafting and enacting the government’s final budget rests solely in Congress’ hands. Congressional leaders from both parties have recently noted that presidential budget proposals are typically dead on arrival.

But conservation groups and other proponents of federal public lands quickly panned Trump’s proposals, which include a more than 10 percent cut to the National Park Service’s discretionary budget compared with 2016 spending levels.

According to the adminstration’s budget for the National Park Service, Glacier Park’s current $13.8 million budget would take a hit of $748,000. Yellowstone’s $35.3 million budget would be slashed by nearly $2 million.

Former Glacier National Park superintendent Chas Cartwright sharply criticized the proposal during a Tuesday media call organized by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“Simply put, this budget demonstrates the president’s lack of understanding and appreciation of the important work done by national park employees,” Cartwright said.

He added that many seasonal and full-time positions in Glacier have been left vacant over years of reduced or stagnant funding for national parks, and said the additional cuts would amount to a “table of organization that’s been shot full of holes.”

“I’ve always accepted the fact that you’ve got to manage within available resources,” Cartwright added. “But this budget is totally unacceptable.”

During the call, Tester also lashed out at the president’s spending priorities.

“It makes drastic cuts that would hurt Montana and it doesn’t invest in our future,” he said, adding that the funding levels “would make Montana into a fundamentally different place.”

Without sufficient spending on staffing and maintenance, he said, the economic benefits from Glacier National Park to Northwest Montana could take a substantial hit.

“A lot of people from Montana go to that park and enjoy that experience, and if that experience turns out to be bad, they’ll go somewhere else,” Tester said.

Trump has pushed his spending priorities as a necessary, if difficult, response to decades of over-spending by the federal government and mounting national debt.

Tester, who last year backed a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget, acknowledged that overall spending needs to be reined in. He provided little in the way of specific areas to trim federal spending elsewhere, but criticized the president’s push for an expensive wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and suggested that his proposed increases in military spending could be reassessed.

As a member of the minority party in both houses of Congress, Tester’s influence on shaping the final budget numbers is likely to be limited. But he said there is “bipartisan concern with this budget,” and his Republican colleague, Sen. Steve Daines, said in an interview Wednesday that “cuts, as they relate to our Forest Service and National Parks, they’re not going to happen. We’re going to fully fund them.”

Noting his recent appointment as the Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Daines promised to fight for funding for deferred maintenance and to provide resources to combat the recent spate of high-profile reports of sexual-harassment in several national parks.

“We’re going to ensure we have the funding we need to deliver services,” Daines said. “Most likely, there won’t be cuts to the national parks budget.”

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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