Yellowstone cutbacks bring out the politicians


Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to another news story, "Strapped parks look for money."

When Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Mike Finley started to feel the budget pinch this summer, he made sure everyone knew about it.

Finley closed a popular campground and two museums in Yellowstone, and threatened to shorten the park season by as much as two months. "We can no longer do more with less," he said flatly.

It didn't take long for local businesses and Wyoming's congressional delegation to accuse the superintendent of poor planning and grandstanding. "This dramatic move is designed only to evoke public discontent," wrote Sens. Al Simpson and Craig Thomas and Rep. Barbara Cubin, all Republicans, in a letter to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Mike Morey, a researcher for the Wyoming Chamber of Commerce, said the campground closing alone cost the region about $1 million in lost business.

In July, Cubin prompted the House Resources Committee to review the park's books. While the results of the review are not yet public, it was enough to prompt both Cubin and Thomas to schedule visits of their own to Yellowstone later this summer.

Finley insists that he tried to minimize impacts on visitors by cutting long-term projects and siphoning money into campgrounds and visitors' centers. He says he resorted to closures only after cutting all road maintenance, slashing science, reducing seasonal staff, and leaving some permanent positions vacant.

Simpson and Thomas have introduced legislation that would increase Yellowstone's funding by $4 million, but Finley says it's not enough. Don Striker, Yellowstone's budget officer, says they would need roughly $8 million to $13 million more each year to run the park properly.

"People in Washington think, "Yellowstone's got $19 million, how could they be having problems?" " says Striker. He hopes that the review will offer Congress a look at the complexities and shortfalls of parks funding. "We're not out here whining just to make a political statement."