Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Redwood National Parks already responding to threat

With federal dollars playing a huge role in Del Norte County's economy, Washington, D.C.'s tussle to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" has piqued interest as to how cuts might affect local federal offices.

Besides tax hikes on most Americans, the fiscal cliff also means automatic federal spending cuts for both Pentagon and domestic programs, including two agencies with a significant local presence: the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

The trigger cuts (sequestration) that are part of the 2011 Budget Control Act were intended to force the U.S. Congress into creating a viable plan to reduce the federal debt. But that didn't happen.

The National Park Service is scheduled for a $2.2 billion cut in operation funding if Congress does not pass a debt reduction plan before Wednesday, and the U.S. Forest Service is facing more than $5.1 billion in cuts nationwide.

Although the cuts are significant, there is no immediate need to reduce spending. Instead, the impact would be spread out through the remainder of the fiscal year (ending Sept. 30, 2013), according to an internal memo to National Park Service employees from Department of Interior officials.

The memo emphasizes the difference between the current situation and recent threats of government shutdowns, which do trigger immediate changes in operations.

"For these reasons, I do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically on or immediately after January 2, should sequestration occur," wrote David J. Hayes, DOI deputy secretary, in the memo, adding that immediate personnel changes like furloughs will not happen.

Redwood National Parks is already responding to the threat of sequestration, however, facing a possible budget reduction of roughly $900,000. The agency has ceased advertising for several vacant, full-time positions until the budget situation is clear, Redwood National officials said.

Travel, non-mandatory training and supply budgets would also probably shoulder much of the financial burden, Redwood National officials said.

Fewer seasonal employees may be hired in response to budget cuts as well, meaning that summer services provided by seasonal employees may be affected, Redwood National officials said.

Six Rivers National Forest officials said they have not received any notice from the regional or national level as to what to expect in the event that the nation goes over the fiscal cliff.

At this point, however, everything is speculation. Congress may take a break from political games and come together before Wednesday. Or funding may be restored early in 2013 with alternative legislation.

The Department of the Interior memo expressed hope that the whole situation could still be avoided:

"Sequestration was never intended to be implemented, and there is no reason why both sides should not be able to come together and prevent this scenario."

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