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Park Service cuts put a price on natural beauty

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NINETY-SIX YEARS ago — on Aug. 25, 1916 — Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act. Largely in response to the Sierra Club’s call for a single federal organization to manage the nation’s parks and monuments, this remarkable piece of legislation attempted both to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects” of the parks and to “provide for the enjoyment of the same […] by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

With the funding cuts that national parks could soon face, however, posterity may no longer be able to count on the parks preserving the nation’s fruited plains and purple mountain majesties. Although Congress hasn’t yet agreed on a budget for the coming fiscal year, park officials told The Post’s Juliet Eilperin that, if lawmakers can’t decide by January, the Park Service could face a possible 8 percent decrease next year; the parks already have suffered significant cuts in recent years. The president’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 would reduce the number of full-time employees and volunteers (who require some administrative funds), which would impede the agency’s ability to maintain the land and monuments it protects.

In the midst of a budget crisis, this is a perfect example of what will happen if the question of entitlement spending is avoided. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, absent reform, will consume an ever-larger portion of the budget, squeezing out everything else the government does, from national defense to national parks. That reality is sometimes disputed, sometimes acknowledged but in the abstract, removed from the programs and initiatives that are bound to suffer. They will suffer too if the nation refuses to levy sufficient revenue.

The National Park Service is one such program at risk. Its purpose is to preserve some of the most beautiful pieces of America’s landscape and heritage for the enjoyment of all citizens — a public good in the truest sense of the phrase. If it’s defunded, everyone loses, and it’s only one of many organizations that could be at risk for cutbacks.

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