After months of toxic budget negotiations and widespread financial panic, the federal government did what many knew deep down it always would do: Fail to reach a deal on deadline. The sequester officially arrived March 1. Democrats responded by pointing fingers at Republicans, and vice versa. The White House canceled all public tours. Jon Stewart shamed Congress, equating the legislative body's incompetence to autoerotic asphyxiation.
Over the next seven months, the country will feel the sting of $85 billion in blanket spending cuts to military and domestic programs. In Montana, those cuts could be felt in the form of civilian defense employee furloughs, decreased funding for wildland firefighting and a halt to military air shows and flyovers at sporting events. But one of the most immediate impacts is also one of the most seemingly mundane: snow removal.
As part of the sequester, the National Park Service has pushed back its plowing schedule on park roadways like the Beartooth Highway and the Going-to-the-Sun Road, delaying opening dates for Yellowstone and Glacier by up to two weeks. The cut is estimated to save as much as $30,000 a day in Yellowstone alonea small step toward staying within a budget that, thanks to the sequester, is roughly $1.3 million less than usual.
"We expect that by delaying opening, we'll take advantage of warmer temperatures and longer days to melt some snow," says Yellowstone public affairs chief Al Nash. "That would allow us, once we start, to have plows on the road for fewer days."
The delay comes with a steep price tag. Nash estimates the park will see 135,000 fewer visitors this year as a result of the late open. In terms of the subsequent economic impact, Nash says if past years are any indication, the surrounding communities will be hit hard. He adds the park will be hiring fewer seasonal employees too.
The anticipated economic trickle effect prompted the executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce to suggest that state transportation departments in Montana and Wyoming clear the Beartooth Highway on their own. Nash confirms that Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk contacted the governors of both states with the idea. If that fails, perhaps Congress could put down the noose Stewart alluded to and pick up a snow shovel.