President Donald Trump Thursday proposed a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department's 2018 budget. And national park advocates like Phil Francis are not happy about it:
"It’s going to be a devastating impact."
Francis is a retired 41-year veteran of the Park Service. He is now with a group called the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks.
And Francis says a 12-percent cut to Interior's budget could have devastating impacts on parks.
"Probably reduced operating hours, either time of day or day of week. The visitor seasons will be shortened. We'll have fewer people to respond to emergency situations. Our maintenance staff will be reduced, increasing the deferred maintenance of our national parks which is already at $12 billion."
In Montana, Norma Nickerson says Glacier and Yellowstone national parks have big impacts on neighboring communities. Nickerson researches tourism economics at the University of Montana.
She cites a 2014 National Park Service report that says:
"2.3 million visitors spent $193 million in the communities surrounding the park and supporting 3,400 jobs – that was Glacier. Yellowstone, similar report: in that year of 2014, 3.5 million visitors spending $421 million in communities near the park."
Former Park Service career-man Phil Francis:
"What happens when those shoulder seasons are reduced? What happens if facilities are closed? What happens if visitor serves are diminished? It’ll be interesting to see. I fear there will be economic consequences."
The Department of Interior declined Montana Public Radio's request for an interview. A department press release says Trump's budget blueprint eliminates some duplicative programs, cuts over $120 million in land acquisition funding and focuses investments on maintaining existing parks, refuges and public lands.
Marne Hayes isn’t convinced yet.
Hayes is the executive director of a group called "Business for Montana's Outdoors," which describes the preliminary budget proposal as "dangerous cuts to public lands that will hurt jobs and the economy."
"We us think it’s a very short-sighted way to go about proposing a budget when a lot of those programs have been hugely beneficial to Montana."
For example, Hayes's group worries the proposed cuts to Interior could hurt the Land and Water Conservation Fund which invests royalties from off-shore petroleum leases in public open space projects.
"We would like to see our entire delegation push back on these cuts, but certainly Secretary Zinke is in a position to take his Montana values and some of his public promises to task to fight the cuts in these public lands programs."
Secretary Zinke is Montana’s former congressman who has long advocated for more money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Phil Francis sees a bigger picture:
"Most of our resources are the places people think about when they think about our country. The face of America is at stake here. I can't think of anything more patriotic than to take care of our national parks, our historic sites. It’s the history of America."
President Trump’s budget proposal is just that – a proposal. It will be up to Congress to decide how much money to allocate for parks and the U.S. Department of Interior.