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Delegation: Don't slash national park funding if 'sequester' takes effect

Feb 28, 2013 - By Mead Gruver, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- The Obama administration is resorting to scare tactics by telling the public that steep budget cuts could result in closures and reduced services at parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton, members of Wyoming's congressional delegation say.

The president has more discretion to focus spending cuts on wasteful spending than he's been letting on, Sen. John Barrasso told The Associated Press.

Sen. Mike Enzi accused the administration of "overplaying and dramatizing" to gin people up against cuts. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, meanwhile, said she would keep in mind "the fiscal and moral crisis that is our $16 trillion dollar debt" if the cuts take effect.

White House and Interior Department spokesmen declined to comment Wednesday.

Wyoming's two popular parks make the state disproportionately affected by a 5 percent cut to the National Park Service budget. Leaked Interior Department memos detail the possible effects once the cuts begin to take effect Friday.

In Yellowstone, spring plowing delays could keep roads closed to automobiles two to four weeks later than usual. In Grand Teton, the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve could be closed, according to one memo from January.

On Tuesday, a report detailing the economic benefits of national parks came out from the Park Service.

Yellowstone got 3.4 million visitors in 2011 -- behind only Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemite national parks -- who spent $332 million in the area. Grand Teton wasn't far behind with 2.6 million visitors and they spent $436 million in nearby communities, according to the peer-reviewed report for the Park Service by Michigan State University.

"If these cuts go into effect, it appears they will harm every one of the 398 parks and monuments in the system as well as park rangers, tourism-dependent businesses and communities, and the millions of Americans who rely on national parks for affordable vacations," warns National Parks Conservation Association President Tom Kiernan on the group's website.

Wyoming's Republican leaders are less alarmed while President Barack Obama and congressional leaders look to remain distant on agreeing to a different mix of cuts.

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