The pastel-colored salt ponds at the south end of San Francisco Bay, long visible to passengers landing at the San Francisco airport, were due for an ambitious cleanup.  What’s been called the largest wetlands restoration in the Western U.S. was halted in December. California is projecting up to a $42 billion budget shortfall by mid-2010.

Florida’s legislature has put its state funding for public land acquisition on ice, and has dropped funding to protect the endangered gopher tortoise. (Florida Governor Charlie Crist said he might consider vetoing the land-buying freeze). The state of New York halved its funding for parks like the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden for 2009, and will completely eliminate the $9 million subsidy next year.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP) which had 4,000 employees a decade ago, could drop under 3,000 with additional staff cuts this year. A report in late 2008 cited understaffing as the main reason the state was severely backlogged in issuing permits and conducting pollution inspections. The DEP team dealing with hazardous waste -- not exactly a tiny issue in my native New Jersey -- is about two-thirds its former size.

Idaho’s Governor, “Butch” Otter, has recommended $9 million in budget cuts from that state’s park system, potentially impacting park staffing, hours, and possibly closing some parks altogether. Before being tossed out of office last week, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich found time in his busy schedule to close two dozen state parks and historic sites and lay off 39 Natural Resources employees in November.

The Massachusetts Energy & Environmental Affairs Office of Technical Assistance, a pioneering team once numbering 30 energy and pollution reduction staffers, will be cut to six in next year’s budget.

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue headed off an effort to close six of Georgia’s 48 state parks. After some angry public feedback, Perdue spared the parks and slashed their maintenance and equipment budgets instead. So fellow Georgians, your state parks are open for business now, and falling apart later.

Phil McKnelly of the National Association of State Park Directors said he didn’t think that parks were bearing an undue burden. “State governments in general are in bad shape.” But he warned that the ax would fall unevenly, noting that California’s proposed cuts were worse until a public uproar forced Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to ease up. By contrast, Missouri’s parks programs are insulated from legislative cuts. The park system there is largely funded through sales tax revenues (though the recession has made a big dent in sales tax income as well).

The bottom line is that shrinking bottom lines are going to hurt everyone, everywhere: Every aspect of state-based services are under the microscope, if not on the chopping block, and the hollow mantra of “do more with less” will be particularly loud in the public sector. But if you think your state’s parks, natural heritage, and environmental protection will be an early victim, feel free to raise a little hell and call the governor.

That can’t hurt a bit.


Peter Dykstra, the former executive producer of CNN's Science, Tech and Weather Unit is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He writes three columns for MNN: Media Mayhem on Mondays, Political Habitat on Wednesdays, and Green States on Fridays. (Yes, he writes a lot.)  

Political Habitat: An ax falls in the forest
What’s been called the largest wetlands restoration in the Western U.S. was halted in December. California is projecting up to a $42 billion budget shortfall