Monday, November 21, 2016

URSP Student Alexis Garretson Explores Budgets of National and State Parks

This semester I am working on a project exploring the budgets of national and state parks in Virginia. Specifically, I am interested in identifying any differences in management priorities and budget totals between parks managed by the federal government and the state of Virginia. Last semester I was a student at the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation, where I was able to learn more about natural spaces in Virginia and the policies that impact them, especially Shenandoah National Park. During my time in Front Royal, a large section of Shenandoah National Park caught fire. I started reading a lot about wildfire policies in the US and learned that in 2015 more than 60% of the US Forest Service budget went to fire suppression. This number seemed incredibly high, and led me to wonder how budget priorities differed across management authorities. My first step in this process was to request the comprehensive budgets from the natural parks in Virginia. While I wait for these budgets, I am reading smaller budget documents about priorities for the different management authorities in Virginia. I have also been reading a lot of literature about what the differences between state and federal practices are in other parts of the country, especially in the western United States. The most interesting thing I discovered this week is that some western states engage in something called ‘land banking.’ This is where states can sell off trust lands that have low recreational value to purchase lands more suitable to recreation. It’s an interesting way that states can prioritize recreational activity on public lands. I’ve also been preparing my datasets for when I receive the budgets. I am using a program called GIS to catalogue different geographical data about the parks, for example, how far the parks are from a water source or what physiographic region they are in. This will help me control for the different situations the parks are in. Long term, I am interested in the intersection of economics with conservation and natural resource policy. Specifically, how can we build better institutional structures to encourage conservation and natural recreation? I hope to continue exploring these questions in graduate school and in my future career.