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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…

Normal_Mamas__Papas01

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.

John-muir

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

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