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  • National parks, forest prepare to see services trimmed by budget battle

  • In anticipation of the sequestration hammer slamming down, staffs at Crater Lake National Park and Oregon Caves National Monument have drafted contingency plans.
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  • In anticipation of the sequestration hammer slamming down, staffs at Crater Lake National Park and Oregon Caves National Monument have drafted contingency plans.
    For starters, visitors to both sites can expect reduced hours and fewer amenities.
    "They asked us to come up with a sequestration plan which is ongoing — it is not set in stone," said park spokeswoman Marsha McCabe.
    The park has about 50 year-round employees, with another 100 usually hired during the busy summer months.
    The plan calls for possibly closing the 16-site Lost Creek campground as well as some restrooms around the Rim Drive and a comfort station at Rim Village, McCabe said. The cleaning schedule also would be reduced, she added.
    "We wouldn't be able to repair the snow plows as quickly," she said. "That would delay opening the road."
    But those options and others are mere possibilities, she said, reiterating the backup plan is still a work in progress.
    "Everybody is hopeful things will get worked out," she said of ending the budget battle.
    Over at the Oregon Caves some 18 miles east of Cave Junction, acting Superintendent Sean Denniston said the full-time staff of fewer than a dozen also has made preparations. About 30 seasonal workers are normally hired each summer, he noted.
    "Our contingency plan calls for reduction in personal training and supplies," he said. "That could result in a shorter operating season with fewer cave tours and shorter hours that we're open."
    In addition, maintenance work on the historic structures within the monument would be deferred if the plan is put in place, he said.
    Precisely how the sequestration could affect the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District staffs remains unknown.
    Local representatives of both agencies referred questions to the Agriculture and Interior department headquarters in Washington, D.C. From there, inquiries were referred to a White House statement of potential state impacts, which did not include local figures.
    However, a statement released nationally by the BLM warned the mandatory budget cuts will have "serious impacts" on the agency's stewardship responsibilities.
    "Local communities and businesses that rely on recreation to support their livelihood will face a loss of income from reduced visitation to the public lands as the BLM will be forced to scale back services," it stated. "The BLM will also be limited in its ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for firefighting and visitor services."
    The BLM's Medford District has about 180 full-time employees with additional seasonal workers hired each summer.
    In a prepared statement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated the sequestration would reduce the Forest Service's ability to thin forests and other work designed to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires in national forests. He also indicated that nearly 700 recreation sites nationally could be closed, including campgrounds, trailheads and picnic areas.
    However, the sequestration would not have a direct impact on the veterans or staff at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City. The agency is exempt from the mandatory cuts, explained spokeswoman Anna Diehl.
    The SORCC provides health care to more than 16,000 veterans and has an annual operating budget of nearly $90 million. It has a staff of about 550, along with some 500 volunteers.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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