Visitors view Half Dome from Glacier Point at Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Visitors view Half Dome from Glacier Point at Yosemite National Park, Calif. Dino Vournas/AP File Photo

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Thousands of Interior Dept. Furloughs Could Hit Tourism, Broader Economy

National Parks spur $30 billion in economic activity, Secretary Salazar argues.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar warned that across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration could spell furloughs for thousands of employees in his department and severely affect the tourism industry.

In a statement released Monday, Salazar and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis reiterated that the cuts would reduce hours of operations at visitor centers and other destinations and deal a severe economic blow to businesses dependent on tourism from the national parks.

“Places like the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty take our breath away and inspire us with their beauty and history, but our national parks also serve as anchors for our nation’s economy,” Salazar said.

The cuts would affect operations at 398 national parks, 561 national wildlife refuges and 268 public land units, he said.

The Interior Department may have to cut $1.3 billion by the end of the fiscal year if sequestration remains in effect, according to the American Federation of Government Employees. An Interior Department spokeswoman said it could be more.

Last week, a leaked memo outlined how the National Park Service would operate under sequestration.  Along with furloughs to current employees, the hiring of thousands of seasonal jobs would be deferred. Additionally, budget cuts would prevent park maintenance, equipment purchases, and many travel and educational programs.

Salazar and Jarvis both emphasized that the national parks are part of a major economic engine, citing a Michigan State University study that found that the parks contributed to more than $30 billion in annual economic activity.

“The national parks return more than $10 for every $1 the American taxpayer invests in the National Park Service; that makes good stewardship sense and good business sense,” Jarvis said.

Salazar told Senate appropriators in a letter earlier in February that sequestration would also jeopardize money for oil and gas development, revenue sharing with state and local governments and Native American programs.

With his statement, Salazar joined other Cabinet secretaries, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who have recently spoken out against the across-the-board cuts.