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Parks need efficient money management

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Dan Wilcock’s piece on national park budgets relates a "shouting match" between the Interior Department and parks observers about how much is or isn’t being spent (HCN, 8/16/04: National parks pinching pennies). But focusing on money spent is diversionary, since money can be used inefficiently, siphoned to other uses, inflated away, and otherwise disguised.

The real measure is how effectively the parks are managed. Death Valley National Park is substantially down in personnel, and there are rumors that the cost of the recent flash-flood damage that closed the park for a week will come from the regular budget. I just spent five days in Sequoia National Park’s backcountry. Some of the backcountry ranger locations are unstaffed. And at the visitor center, wood benches and concrete curbings are falling apart, and parts of the restroom facilities are unmaintained.

Of course, it’s not all bad. Sequoia National Park recently completed removal of something like a hundred buildings from a magnificent sequoia grove; they had been damaging the long-term viability of the grove. But that’s done, and we must be concerned with now and the future.

If the parks were well maintained and managed on 10 cents a year, no one would complain. It’s not the dollar amount that counts, it’s results.

Tom Budlong
Los Angeles, California

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