Tuesday, February 19, 2008

2 Dinosaur National Monument paleo jobs go extinct

Finally, a word from the Dinosaur National Monument park superintendent, Mary Risser. I do not agree with everything she has to say, but read it for yourself. If you are unfamiliar with this controversy please read my other blog postings on this subject. If you disagree or agree with Ms. Risser, write her (and the Director) and say so*! She thinks she is only hearing a small portion of the people who are opposed to the cutbacks (see her remark below in bold) - a narrow vision by outsiders. She should remember that outsiders are the visitors to her park and what we have to say does matter and she should listen to us!!

I am sorry if she thinks Dinosaur National Monument is not all about paleontology, but I bet if you ask any person who comes to the park about what they are there to see 9 or every 10 would say something about seeing fossils/dinosaurs!

From the Uintah Basin Standard:

Dinosaur National Monument administrators decided to eliminate two key positions last week.

Both jobs, a geologist and a curator, have supported the monument's paleontology program for the past seven years. But the most essential part of the program, a full-time paleontologist with a doctorate degree in paleontology, remains intact.

We're not getting rid of the paleontologist and we're not getting rid of the paleontology program, Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent Mary Risser said in a phone interview last week.

The cuts are another step toward curtailing labor costs at the monument, according to Risser.

This is the first time we've reached into [the paleontology] work unit to make changes, she said.

Risser explained one of her first actions to cut workforce costs was to eliminate the superintendent's secretary and the half-time concessions positions, taking those responsibilities on herself.

And over the past four years, the pattern has continued.

A full-time chief ranger primarily responsible for law enforcement and a full-time administrative officer responsible for budgets, purchasing, procurement, personnel, information technology and other areas were combined into one position.

The chief of research and resource management was combined with the head of the cultural resource program. The human resources specialist and purchasing agent were combined into a single administrative technician. And the chief maintenance officer was asked to do the job of a foreman, whose position was eliminated.

Since 2004 the practice of combining job duties has allowed the monument to cut more than $700,000.

In general, when the National Parks Service cuts a position, the individual filling the position is reassigned within the parks system. Risser said the public scrutiny over cuts in the paleontology program is due to a narrow vision of the monument by outsiders.

We have a bigger responsibility than just paleontology, she explained.

She pointed out that Dinosaur National Monument oversees more than 210,000 acres of public land and is responsible for fire response on a half million more acres outside the monument largely in the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.

When the monument was created in 1915, it included just 80,000 acres.

In addition, the monument oversees 90 miles of river along the Green and Yampa rivers, a resource that Risser said monument staff is taking a closer look at.

And the monument is also home to some 280 bird species, 66 mammal species, 33 fish species, six amphibian species and 18 reptile species each requiring management, with some appearing on endangered species lists.

Several cultural resources from signs of early pioneers, ranchers and trappers to prehistoric archeological finds also require management.

And on top of that, the monument's primary attraction, paleontology, has lost its appeal with the closure of the visitor center and quarry face in 2006 due to structural problems.

It's a group of very passionate people, Risser said of the monument staff. We have a bigger responsibility than just paleontology.

She added that there have been several innovative solutions to keep programs running on lower budgets. Rather than performing its own research, the monument takes advantage of third parties, such as universities. And a wildlife biologist leveraged $20,000 from fee collections into a big horn sheep study costing more than $100,000.

Risser said the need to reduce payroll costs is due to what she called the eroding power of the budget.

Several factors play into the monuments ability to cover its costs on its $3 million budget. The monument has seen the same increases in costs of materials for maintenance and construction as other private-sector operations.

But one of the bigger factors, Risser said, is a 20-year-old change in the federal retirement system. She explained that changes under the Reagan administration have resulted in a more attractive retirement package, but at a budgetary cost to the monument.

And the monument has also seen its share of unfunded mandates each taking its bite out of a already stretched budget.

Risser noted that the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and BLM are each seeing similar strain on their budgets.

Everyone is experiencing budget cuts. We're actually doing better than our sister agencies, she said.

Risser added that this year's budget had called for a base increase and the monument had hoped to increase the number of field positions. Neither of those things are likely to happen though.

But there is good news. Risser said the monument is reaching the final stages of the National Environmental Policy Act procedures before work begins to reopen the quarry and visitor center. She said the preferred alternative is to rehabilitate the quarry face and move visitor areas to more stable soils.

*Ms. Mary Risser, Superintendent
Dinosaur National Monument
4545 Highway 40
Dinosaur, CO 81610
Phone: 970-374-3001
Fax: 970-374-3003

Mr. Mike Snyder
Intermountain Regional Director
National Park Service
P.O. Box 25287
Lakewood, CO 80225-0287
Phone: 303-969-2503
Fax: 303-969-2785

Ms. Mary A. Bomar
National Park Service
1849 C Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20240
Phone: 202-208-4621
Phone: 202-208-6843

Mr. Dirk Kempthorne
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20240
Phone: 202-208-3100


Anonymous said...

oops - check the email address for Mary Bomar in your most recent DINO piece

ReBecca said...

Thanks ;)