Swan Day among first casualties of federal budget cuts
The first obvious impacts of the federal budget cuts impacting public lands in Utah have hit: canceled events, shortened seasons and reduced services.
People planning to attend the annual Swan Day activities at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on Saturday will find an empty nest at least as far as having Fish and Wildlife Service employees on hand to answer questions and assist visitors while reduced visitor seasons will be instituted at Timpanogos Cave and Cedar Breaks national monuments. Timpanogos Cave in American Fork Canyon will reduce its limited visitor season by six weeks, from about 22 weeks to 16. Cedar Breaks National Monument near Brian Head will also delay its limited season by opening three weeks later than usual.
The cuts and reductions are the result of agencies eliminating seasonal jobs and not filling permanent open positions to absorb the nearly $2 million cut to park budgets in Utah.
"There are going to be visible impacts visitors will see and feel, especially those at Timpanogos Cave and Cedar Breaks," said Denis Davis, Utah State Coordinator for the National Park Service. "The rest of the cuts will impact park operations and be less visible to the visitors such as the absence of law enforcement and ranger-led programs. This will certainly impact the ability of the park service to respond to law enforcement and medical incidents."
Timpanogos usually opens to visitors, snow allowing, on Mother's Day this year May 12 but this season, it won't open until Memorial Day, on May 27. And instead of staying open into mid-October, as usual, it will shut its gates on Labor Day, Sept. 2. One expected result is the cancellation of field trips for hundreds of schoolchildren who usually tour the cave.
Cedar Breaks plans a three-week delay on opening, likely pushing that date from late May into June.
At Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah/Colorado border, the Canyon Visitor Center on the Colorado side of the monument will be closed. The new Quarry Visitor Center on the Utah side will remain open but with reduced hours.
The delayed openings and possible reduced visitation could impact local tourism-based economies around the parks.
Yellowstone National Park announced earlier this week it would delay its traditional early May opening by two weeks due to a $1.75 million reduction. Tourism-based industries in towns just outside of Yellowstone say the delayed opening will hurt business.
Grand Canyon National Park is also delaying the opening of the East and West Rim drives.
Back in Utah, families with big plans for Swan Day were left to fend for themselves.
Cancellation of the Swan Day activities planned Saturday was a decision "made out of the Washington office. We are waiting to hear more facts," Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Manager Bob Barrett said.
Swan Day is a celebration of the annual migration of tundra swans through Utah, an annual average of 40,000, as they fly north back to the Arctic tundra each March. Barrett said about 300 people attended the event in 2012.
Activities at the event typically include a swan biology clinic, Junior Ranger activities, book readings, arts and crafts and a Junior Duck Stamp starter kit.
Fish & Wildlife staff members are usually also available at select locations on the refuge's auto loop to help visitors spot tundra swans.
The swans are gathering on the refuge and can still be seen by the public.
Barrett was not sure if the refuge's visitor center would be open Saturday.
"I might get more direction in the next couple of days that could change the equation," Barrett said.
The state-sponsored Swan Day held March 16 at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area west of Farmington and the Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area west of Corinne are still scheduled.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources employees will be at each site from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will have spotting scopes available for visitors to get a good look at the swans.
Federal budget cut impacts on Utah's National Park Service units
Five national parks, six national monuments, one national historic site and one national recreation area.
• More than 9.5 million visitors in 2012; about 40 percent of the annual tourist numbers for Utah
• $698 million in economic benefit to Utah in 2011
• More than 11,300 jobs directly supported by the National Park Service in Utah
Source: National Park Service