Posted by: Sandy Steinman | November 10, 2019

Evaporating National Park Staff Levels

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility News Release

As both the number of parks and visitation has swelled over the past decade, the number of full-time staff employed by National Park Service (NPS) has been in steep decline, falling by more than 3,500 or 16% since 2011, according to agency figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. These growing shortfalls compromise the ability of the parks to protect both their resources and the visiting public.

The National Park System is now responsible for more than 85 million acres of land and has grown to 419 diverse units, including parks, battlefields, historic sites, monuments, seashores, and scenic trails. In 2018, nearly 320 million people visited national parks, a number roughly equivalent to the total U.S. population.

In contrast to this large and increasing workload, overall staffing, as measured by full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), has fallen sharply since 2011 through 2019, including –

  • A decline in Park Protection staff of 20% or 613 fewer rangers, law enforcement, and emergency services staff;
  • Visitor Services staffing has decreased by a similar amount, 19%, or 554 fewer slots; and
  • Resource Stewardship has dropped by 16% or 420 fewer positions.

“These figures reflect a serious erosion in our ability to safeguard some of the most iconic areas in the United States for current and future generations,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, pointing out that Trump administration budget proposals call for even deeper NPS staffing cuts. “Unfortunately, we see nothing the wings to prevent Park Service staff levels from falling even further in the coming decade.”

While the backlog of needed park maintenance and infrastructure projects has ballooned to roughly $12 billion, NPS facilities operation and maintenance staffing has decreased the most of any major workforce component – a 21% drop or 1,106 fewer FTEs.

“Our national park system is suffering from chronic wasting disease and headed for a serious breakdown,” added Whitehouse, noting that, among other shortfalls, NPS has had no permanent director under Trump. “In 2016, our national park System celebrated its centennial but today we see a system stumbling into its second century, without support, a strategy, or leadership,”

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