Governator to shut down conservation projects
Conservation projects in California’s state parks face a bleak future, if cuts proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger go through.
To tackle a swelling state deficit that has reached $24.3 billion, the “Governator” wants to slash spending across the board – including funding for 80 per cent of the 270 sites run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Those parks earmarked for closure (pdf) include world-famous attractions such as the giant sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Gated access roads to some parks would be closed, but many parks can be easily entered from public highways. With no rangers on hand to keep a watchful eye on visitors, that could be bad news for threatened species such as the desert tortoise.
California’s state parks also host at least 120 field-research projects each year. These include a four-decade study of breeding elephant seals at the Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve, south of San Francisco, by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“We’re concerned that we’ll be locked out of our research sites,” says Steve Davenport, who manages the Año Nuevo research site for the university. “And if the public can get in there and there is no ranger staff, there could be serious disruption to populations – and people could get hurt.”
In an attempt to keep the parks open, the state legislature’s budget committee on Monday backed a proposal to fund the parks through a $15 surcharge on vehicle registration fees paid by motorists. But it is unclear whether the proposal will be passed, given opposition from Republican members of the legislature.
What’s more, with lawmakers from both parties and the governor still at loggerheads over solving California’s budget woes, the state parks are just one pawn in a high stakes game. Last week, controller John Chiang, California’s senior fiscal officer, warned that the state’s cash reserves would run out by the end of July, threatening “a meltdown of state government”.