Cuts to the Washington State Parks Commission budget have forced Birch Bay and Peace Arch state parks to shuffle employees, but park rangers say the difference will be unnoticeable to the average park visitor.
Starting February 1, Birch Bay State Park manager Ted Morris will be the manager of both Birch Bay and Peace Arch state parks. This change means current Peace Arch manager Jason Snow will technically be a ranger based out of Birch Bay, but Morris said Snow will continue to spend most of his time at Peace Arch.
“[The change] will be pretty seamless to the public,” Morris said.
Snow said he sees the changes as positive because it will allow more flexibility in the maintenance of the two parks. Both he and Morris offered assurance that the upkeep of both parks would not fall by the wayside.
Birch Bay State Park will then have two full-time rangers and a senior park aide. Peace Arch will still employ Snow as its only full-time ranger and add a park aide position, who will also be able to help at Birch Bay State Park. Peace Arch will drop two seasonal gardening positions and add a single, full-time gardener.
The shift in park staff for Birch Bay and Peace Arch comes as park rangers across Washington are reassigned or laid off due to budget cuts. Morris said the state parks commission was forced to take an extra $11 million cut at the beginning of 2012 due to lower-than-expect revenue from the recently implemented Discover Pass.
“[The cut] is the most I’ve ever seen in 36 years in state parks,” Morris said.
Early estimates for Discover Pass revenue predicted $11 million by 2012, but actual revenue has reached only $6 million. At this rate, Morris explained, the parks commission would have been losing $750,000 per month in 2012 without the $11 million budget reduction.
“We’ll get through this, but it’s frustrating to be doing more with less for years and then take this cut,” Morris said. “But that’s life.”
In the state’s 2007-09 biennium budget, the state parks commission collected 66 percent of its funding from the state general fund. In the 2009-11 biennium, that number was slashed to 30 percent.
In the proposed 2011/13 budget, only 12 percent of the parks commission budget came from the state general fund with a third expected to come from annual and day park-access-pass revenue. Morris estimated no state parks money will come from the state’s general fund by the 2013/15 biennium.
In recent months, most budget reductions at individual state parks have been cuts in staff. Because rangers are reassigned or laid off based on their seniority level, Morris said he and Snow will most likely not be replaced by longer-serving rangers at either Birch Bay or Peace Arch.
Morris explained the ranger reassignment process this way. Say a state park needs to cut one ranger position, and the ranger currently filling that spot has 15 years experience. That ranger would be a given two basic choices: Fill a vacant spot somewhere else or “bump” a less senior ranger out of his or her position at another state park.
Few if any state parks have vacancies, so the more-senior ranger would be forced to replace a ranger with less experience. In this instance, more-senior rangers are given their choice of 10 or so parks to transfer to. The list is usually long because a given ranger might not get his or her first choice of transfer because more senior rangers are given priority, Morris explained.
Transfers like these can sometimes move families across the state, Morris said, so the state parks commission tries to give rangers at least three weeks advance notice. While Morris has never personally experienced such a transfer, he said he feels for the rangers put in this predicament.
“For me, it’s a sad situation,” Morris said. “Not only for the people I know, but also for state parks.”
Both Morris and Snow agreed the state parks system in Washington cannot operate this way for long. Morris expressed worry that the effects of budget cuts will accumulate and force some state parks to be closed within two or three years.
“Hopefully, it won’t be too long in this mode,” Morris said.