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Stupid Is As Stupid Does (California Dreamin’)

Wouldn’t you expect birders to be among the first to grab the pitchforks and storm the Bastille when these special places are threatened? Shouldn’t birding, of all of the wildlife-associated recreations, be the most hypersensitive, the most attuned, to any threats to public lands and access to them?

Equestrians are. Mountain bikers are. ATVers are. Snowmobilers are. Hunters and anglers are. All of their representative organizations are. Where are we?

I do not believe that I have ever quoted Forest Gump before now. I doubt that I will again. But, with some alteration, stupid is as stupid does (or doesn’t).

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray…


California is the most hated state. A new poll by Public Policy Polling found that Americans love Hawaii and hate California. Like virtually everything else in our polarized society, the poll found,

Republicans love Alaska and Texas, and absolutely hate California, followed distantly by Illinois and Massachusetts. So the greatest partisan gap is for California, which Democrats like 91 points more than Republicans do, followed by Texas, which is favored more by Republicans by 82 points…

Polls such as this stimulate more questions than they reveal answers. How many of the people surveyed have actually been to these states? For those who haven't (the majority, I would imagine), what factors have influenced their opinions? Television? Talk radio? And what is it with Republicans hating the home state of Ronald Reagan? The polling firm must have skipped birders. Here is where partisanship in the birding community is jettisoned. Ask 100 birders about their favorite birding states, and most would place Alaska, California, and Texas near the top with Florida and Arizona thrown in for good measure. Democrats like California, too. No wonder. The Democrats in California rule the roost. The party controls almost all the levers of power and will do so for the foreseeable future. Beginning with Governor Jerry Brown, all 10 statewide elective offices are held by Democrats. That includes both U.S. Senate seats, and nearly two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state legislature.


California is also John Muir's state, the hermetic geezer on the face of the California quarter. John Muir said,

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

The Democrats in John Muir's own state are closing parks, those "places to play and pray in…." At the last count over 70 were being shuttered. Jerry Brown once said that "America will work if we're all in it together. It'll work when there's a shared sense of destiny." Is closing parks part of that destiny? "Shared destiny" and "we are all in it together" look good on paper. These are bromides spooned out during a political campaign. The listener feels good about himself, is comforted by the palliative "shared destiny," and then tramps home to find his neighboring park chained. According to Save Our State Parks,

January 5, Governor Jerry Brown released a Fiscal Year 2012-13 State Budget that contains dire cuts to California’s state park system. The budget continues down the path of closing state parks with the inclusion of a reduction of General Fund support of $11 million. When combined with the $11 million cut from Fiscal Year 2011-12 State Budget, the result is a full $22 million General Fund cut to the Department of Parks and Recreation, necessitating the closure of up to 70 state parks. Equally serious and provocative, the budget proposes to eliminate all seasonal lifeguards (which effectively eliminates all lifeguards on all state beaches), and eliminate 20 percent of all rangers in California state parks, if the Governor’s November ballot initiative for new revenue isn’t successful. Despite the fact that a decision on that initiative is ten months away, the Governor is demanding that these draconian budget cuts be committed to this Spring.

According to the Bellingham Herald,

As with so many cuts in California government spending these days, the hope is that once the budget improves, the state will restore services and amenities that have long made the state a rich place to live. But there are no guarantees, especially because just 13 of the state parks and beaches are financially self-sustaining.

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My hair catches fire when I read the words "parks" and "financially self-sustaining" mashed together. I expect such nonsense from politicians. But a reporter should have the curiosity (and integrity) to go beyond this first right answer to a question that no one asks. Why should parks pay for themselves? Most public services provided by government do not. Do roads? Do airports? Does the post office? No. Most of the economic activity they generate is captured by adjacent businesses and communities.

Combined with the 276 million annual visitors to our National Parks more than 1 billion visitors a year use this great national system of parks.In addition to the role state parks play in outdoor recreation, they conserve natural and cultural treasures important to American citizens. Collectively, America’s State Parks have a $20 billion economic impact on local and state economies and when combined with the impact of our National Parks the total rises to $32 billion… The National Association of State Park Directors

Parks similarly contribute their economic impacts to the businesses and communities that surround them. Let's use Yosemite National Park as an example. I know; national parks and state parks are hardly analogous. But bear with me through this example before registering your complaints. According to the National Park Service,

In 2010, 4 million visitors to Yosemite spent $354.7 million in the park and the surrounding communities. That spending supported more than 4,600 jobs in the area. Across the U.S., local visitor spending added a total of $31 billion to the national economy and supported more than 258,000 jobs, and increase of $689 million and 11,5000 jobs over 2009.

Now let's return to California state parks. How much do they contribute to the economy? According to a study of California State Parks by California State University, Sacramento,

The findings show that state parks generate a considerable amount of economic activity. Visitors spend on average $80.85 per visit, including $31.32 within a 25 mile radius of the park and $49.53 outside the 25 miles radius. Extrapolating from the 26 studied parks to the entire 279 park units statewide, state park visitors annually spend an estimated $6.9 billion.

State parks in California are a billion-dollar industry. No, you will not see the billions on their balance sheets, but the impact is there nevertheless. And how much is California hoping to save by closing these parks? $33 million over two years. Governor Brown's office states,

Despite the large number of parks identified for closure, at least 92% of today’s attendance will be retained, 94% of existing revenues will be preserved,and 208 parks will remain open.

I am in a forgiving mood. I like California. I like Democrats. Let's assume that these figures are correct. Let's also ignore the costs the state will face in reopening these parks at some later date (already some of the closed parks have been vandalized). If the state park system generates $6.9 billion in economic impact, and the visitation decreases only 8%, then this move to save $33 million over two years will cost the economy $552 million per year that the parks are closed. If the projected decrease in state park revenue is comparable to a decrease in economic impact, the cost of saving that $33 million will be a bargain – $442 million a year.

No function of state government may be feeling the pinch of tough times as much as state parks, even though they make up less than 0.3 percent of all state budget expenditures. The grim news on state park funding comes from across the country. California closed 70 state parks. Arizona eliminated all state funding for parks. Colorado reduced its parks budget by $3 million, Georgia by $10 million, and Massachusetts by $23 million. Budget

Not all of this will be felt by the state as a whole. Dollars spent by California residents on trips to their state parks are a wash. This is simply shifting dollars from one California pocket to another. But for the small businesses and communities that depend on these parks, the loss is real. If I own a RV park, I do not care if I am stealing business from a competing park in a neighboring community. The gain is mine; the gain is real.

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Texas state parks are being hammered as well, in this instance by Republicans, The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is facing a 21.5% cut in the 2012 budget, leaving Texas parks with a $4.6 million shortfall. Texas currently spends the least amount of money per capita on state parks in the nation (and ranks near the bottom for investments in education, health care, and environmental protection). The funding mechanism for state parks is in place – the sporting goods sales tax. For the 2012-2013 biennium, the sporting goods sales tax is expected to raise $250 million. Of that, only $53.1 million will go to the parks, and another $22 million will be spent on beach erosion. The rest, $175.9 million, is being raided from the parks fund to “balance” the state budget. As a recent article by the Texas First Foundation notes,

Instead of raising new revenues or closing corporate tax loopholes, and while they were bragging about balancing the budget with “no new taxes,” legislators sent our parks, our state treasure, out begging for change. There are countless other “tax and switch” examples like this in our state budget. Dedicated funds such as the gas tax, which is supposed to fund road construction, and the System Benefit Fund, which was created to help poor elderly and disabled Texans with their electric bills, are surreptitiously diverted away from their intended use.

In retail this is called "bait-and-switch." Bait the customer with one discounted product, then switch them to the higher priced spread. The Texas legislature has perfected the "tax-and-switch" technique, without penalty. In the private sector, bait-and-switch is considered fraud, a crime. For those sucked in by the myth of the Texas miracle, a state where Republicans are as dominant as Democrats in California, let this pop your bubble.

  • 1st Amount of Toxic Emissions from Manufacturing Facilities
  • 1st Amount of Toxic Release Inventory Chemicals Used by Manufacturing Industries
  • 1st Number of Clean Water Permit Violations
  • 1st Number of Environmental Civil Rights Complaints
  • 1st Number of Hazardous Waste and Spills
  • 2nd Amount of Ozone Pollution Exposure
  • 49th Park Spending and Acreage
  • 47th Per Capita Spending on Water Quality
  • 46th Open Space Protection

Consider our recreation's absolute dependence on public land. What percentage of eBird hotspots are public? What about IBA's? Birding trails? In truth, the vast majority of non-backyard birding takes place in some form of public land: national parks, forests, and refuges, state parks and forests, county and community parks, non-profit sanctuaries, and the like. In Texas, our beaches are the common property of our citizens as well. Wouldn't you expect birders to be among the first to grab the pitchforks and storm the Bastille when these special places are threatened? Shouldn't birding, of all of the wildlife-associated recreations, be the most hypersensitive, the most attuned, to any threats to public lands and access to them? Equestrians are. Mountain bikers are. ATVers are. Snowmobilers are. Hunters and anglers are. All of their representative organizations are. Where are we? I do not believe that I have ever quoted Forest Gump before now. I doubt that I will again. But, with some alteration, stupid is as stupid does (or doesn't).

  • You can donate to help California parks here.
  • You can donate to help Texas parks here.
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Ted Lee Eubanks

Ted Lee Eubanks

Ted Lee Eubanks is president and CEO of Fermata Inc. an Austin-based global leader is sustainable tourism and outdoor recreation. Eubanks and Fermata were responsible for developing the first birding trails, in Texas, in the early 1990s. He has served on the national boards of Audubon and the CLO, and received the first ABA Chan Robbins Award in 2000. Eubanks writes extensively about birds, conservation, and sustainability, and has coauthored two books about birds (The Birdlife of Houston, Galveston, and the Upper Texas Coast, and Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail). To continue his work connecting people to places, birders to birds, Eubanks has formed a new company, Great American Trails, which is using new technologies to attract new constituents to the outdoors.
Ted Lee Eubanks

Latest posts by Ted Lee Eubanks (see all)

  • Ned Brinkley

    Excellent work.

  • Thanks,Ned. For those interested, here is a link to a new economic impact assessment for PA parks. Out-of-state visitors are responsible for $250 million in annual contributions.

  • Todd Morris

    The picture painted for CA seems to be one of Democrats holding all of the power & therefore responsible for all of the damage. This ignores the political reality of CA, where the constitution requires a 2/3 majority to pass a state budget. This makes the fact that Dems hold ‘nearly’ two-thirds of each house a rather crucial point. Every year the Republicans hold up the budget past the legally required date, all to see which few of them can get the best pork projects for their district as payment for their vote. Of course they make additional demands as well, such as restricting the ability of the Dems to raise taxes.

    With Prop. 13 also gutting the ability of the state to raise funds from property tax, the decline is just unending. Certainly the park closures are short-sighted – we knew that when the previous (Republican) governor, Arnie, started doing it and mandating furlough days for state workers (which has also been shown to cost more than it saves).

  • Michael Retter

    Todd, you bring to light two important facts (Republican obstructionism and California’s ridiculous ballot initiative system). I have been a big opponent of the latter for a long time. Direct democracy simply does not work: when given the choice to vote against tax increases and against a reduction in services/benefits, a majority will do so nearly all the time. The outcome is a permanently bankrupt state.

  • Friends

    It is not just these two large states. Iowa, which by some calculations ranks 49th out of 50 states in the amount of public land held by the state, is now considering legislation [HF2434] which contains among many other things, a paragraph that states ‘the department of natural resources shall identify and sell real property under the control of the department, the sale of which is not otherwise prohibited by federal law, that is not utilized for state parks and forests in sufficient acreage that shall generate at least twenty million dollars‘. The land referred to is probably state Wildlife Management Areas, many of which are valued for other kinds of open space recreation besides hunting. Some how the moneys generated by birding, odonating, wildflowering, etc is never so obvious as as that which comes from hunters.

    This bill’s full title is, An Act relating to government operations and efficiency, school elections, eliminating certain tax credits, and including effective date and applicability provisions. It is no wonder that there is the present level of government distrust when something like this bill contains such an absolute hodge-podge of things.

    Rick Hollis

  • Bud Debo

    The situation is not quite as dire in California as it appears. Tom Stienstra, SF Chronicle outdoors writer, recently penned a column entitled ‘Closed’ doesn’t mean what it seems at state parks

    Stienstra says, “From the closed gates and signs at the parks closed this winter, it might appear that all access is forbidden.

    Nope. Parks are still open for walk-ins over or past the closed gates, but there are no signs at any of the parks and no notice posted at the State Parks website,, that explains that to the public.

    What’s closed are parking lots and all services, several rangers said this winter, most notably Brian Barton, a public safety specialist for State Parks, and Deputy Director Roy Stearns. You can still hike in, or in some cases, hoist a bike over the gate and ride in. They ask all visitors to use a “leave no trace” approach.

    No restrooms, running water, garbage service or camping are available at parks closed because of a funding shortage in the state budget.”

    Read more:

  • Sadly “stupid is as stupid does” is an appropriate title for this post. On the November 2010 ballot in California was a “Vehicle License Fee for Parks Act.” Proposition 21 would have increased vehicle license fees in the state by $18 a year in order to raise about $500 million a year in a dedicated fund for the state’s 278 parks.

    The proposition was defeated 57% to 43% with nearly 60% of registered voters voting. National Audubon, Nature Conservancy, California League of Conservation Voters and California State Parks Foundation were instrumental in the fight for this proposition.

    The provisions of the proposal were:

    • There would be a new $18 tax/registration fee for most vehicle registrations.
    • Mobile homes, permanent trailers, and vehicles registered under the Commercial Vehicle Registration Act would be excluded from the surcharge.
    • Most California vehicles would get free admission and parking at state parks and beaches.
    • 85% of the money raised from the new fee would be spent directly on maintaining and operating state parks.
    • The $130 million that the State of California currently spends on state parks would go into the state’s general fund.

    I am hoping that this idea is resurrected and returned to the ballot before it’s too late to repair the damage.

    Thank you Ted for the excellent extensive report on this problem which appears to be nationwide.

    I believe that one thing birders and all environmentalists need to do is keep watch on which politicians are anti-environment and help defeat them. To this end the League of Conservation Voters is an excellent resource.

  • Tom

    California might have more money for parks if they didn’t work so hard to chase off industry – Toyota and GM had a nice big auto plant in Fremont, but California’s ultra-liberal work rules and less than friendly manufacturing rules (which keep suppliers out of the state too) made keeping the plant open for the “new” GM as well as Toyota untenable.

    So, Toyota left. For the first time in nearly 100 years (California had auto plants way back in the 1920’s), no one was building cars in California…which means fewer jobs, a smaller tax base, less incentives, etc.

  • Guest

    @Todd Morris California voters repealed the 2/3 majority in 2010.,_Majority_Vote_for_Legislature_to_Pass_the_Budget_(2010) Democrats probably could blame Republicans for any budget cuts anyway, because tax increases still require a 2/3 vote. But the argument has become more convoluted.

  • Tom, there is no state that panders to business more than Texas. If California has ultra-liberal work rules, then Texas has ultra-liberal business rules. Yet Texas is last in the country in investments in parks and park acreage per capita. Apparently attracting industry (as opposed to chasing it off) doesn’t translate into more parks and public lands.

  • Mike Vandeman

    Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1996: . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

    To see exactly what harm mountain biking does to the land, watch this 5-minute video:

    In addition to all of this, it is extremely dangerous: .

    For more information: .

    The common thread among those who want more recreation in our parks is total ignorance about and disinterest in the wildlife whose homes these parks are. Yes, if humans are the only beings that matter, it is simply a conflict among humans (but even then, allowing bikes on trails harms the MAJORITY of park users — hikers and equestrians — who can no longer safely and peacefully enjoy their parks).

    The parks aren’t gymnasiums or racetracks or even human playgrounds. They are WILDLIFE HABITAT, which is precisely why they are attractive to humans. Activities such as mountain biking, that destroy habitat, violate the charter of the parks.

    Even kayaking and rafting, which give humans access to the entirety of a water body, prevent the wildlife that live there from making full use of their habitat, and should not be allowed. Of course those who think that only humans matter won’t understand what I am talking about — an indication of the sad state of our culture and educational system.

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