UNIQUENESS AND LINK - State economies are fragile – state parks are on the chopping block. The plan would force cuts that would lead to irreversible environmental degradation, species loss, and economic loss
Goldberg 7/13/09 (Suzanne, US environment correspondent, International: US recession: California poised to shut gates on great outdoors as parks struggle with budgets: Public may lose access to 80% of nature reserves: State's plan digs deeper financial hole, say critics” The Guardian (London) - Final Edition, LN)
It is hard to envisage a no-entry sign tagged to a towering redwood tree. But the recession - writ on an epic scale in California's proposal to close 220 state parks - is forcing the American public to confront the closure of the great outdoors.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's governor, is trying to make up a $26bn (£16bn) budget shortfall, and has suggested that California can no longer afford to run its parks.
Conservationists are meanwhile arguing that California cannot afford not to. And this week the federal government appeared to partly agree, with the National Parks Service threatening to seize some of the sites if Schwarzenegger goes ahead with the closures.
The proposed shutdown of the parks would affect 80% of California's nature reserves, historic sites and recreation areas, and restrict access to 30% of the state's coastline. Affected areas would stretch from the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas to the beaches and wetlands of Big Sur, and to the deserts of San Diego, where some of the last peninsular bighorn sheep roam.
California is not alone. The crisis has also exposed hitherto hidden casualties of the economic downturn, with states from Oregon to Illinois, and New York to Tennessee, struggling to stretch resources.
Other states have proposed budgets that would put closed signs on parks and historic sites, though none so far has adopted measures as extreme as those being put forward in California.
Pennsylvania presented a budget proposal last month that would shut 35 of its 117 state parks. Several states have been forced to scale back opening hours and services, and dismiss rangers, faced with cuts to budgets - ranging from 39% in Georgia to 57% in Idaho.
The federal government does not have the resources to save more than a handful of California's parks, let alone all of those across the US. Nonetheless, the National Parks Service issued a letter warning Schwarzenegger that it would use protection clauses under the original land deeds to the states, so as to take control of six parks in the San Francisco area, the dunes around the Big Sur and elsewhere.
"We really are just looking for ways we can keep those places open," said David Siegenthaler, the National Parks Service's manager for the state of California. "In these economic times it is probably even more important that people have access to good places."
Conservationists believe parks can withstand a year or so of closure without lasting harm. But fewer ranger stations will mean increased risk of vandalism, and less maintenance will lead toenvironmental degradation.
"If it is a year or two I don't think the damage will be a long lasting situation," said Philip McKnelly, director of the National Association of State Park Directors. "But ultimately it is going to show as damage to resources."
A survey of state park directors in mid-May suggested most states had cut spending on parks by 15% in their 2008 budgets, and were considering steeper cuts in the next fiscal year, which started on 1 July for many. In California, the loss will be immediate, conservationists say, putting some of the state's most visited sites off-limits.
Critics also fear the closures could be irreversible. "Once those places are closed it becomes very difficult to re-open them," said Traci Verardo Torres, of the California StateParks Foundation, which is protesting against the proposal.
Schwarzenegger's proposal forces the closure of the only camp grounds inside the giant redwood forests to the north, and it blocks access to Lake Tahoe, though the site is shared by California with Nevada. "All of the parks in Lake Tahoe are proposed for closure," said Verardo Torres. "If (they) close there would not be a way legally for the public to access the lakes."
It is not immediately clear, in any case, how California will put vast tracts of land off-limits. "They would have to fence it and guard it to keep people out, and the effort they would have to extend to keep people out would cost just as much to run the park," said Siegenthaler.
California could be digging itself into a yet deeper financial hole by its actions, some say. Many of the parks are a source of revenue for state and local communities. "Each visitor to a state park is worth $57 per visit. The parks have generated millions throughout California," said Tim Gibbs, programme manager at the National Parks Conservation Association. "It's almost as if they are shooting themselves in the foot." B. Impacts