Conservation projects in California's state parks face a bleak future, if cuts proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger go through.
To tackle a swelling state deficit that has reached $24.3 billion, the "Governator" wants to slash spending across the board â€“ including funding for 80 per cent of the 270 sites run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Those parks earmarked for closure (pdf) include world-famous attractions such as the giant sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Gated access roads to some parks would be closed, but many parks can be easily entered from public highways. With no rangers on hand to keep a watchful eye on visitors, that could be bad news for threatened species such as the desert tortoise.
In a recent survey, researchers led by Kristin Berry of the US Geological Survey in Moreno Valley found a worryingly high death rate among young animals in the Red Rock Canyon State Park, north of Los Angeles â€“ some of which had gunshot wounds.
The proposed funding cuts would also eliminate conservation management activities such as the removal of invasive plants and efforts to prevent catastrophic fires. In Calaveras, this involves the removal of fir trees allowed to grow by earlier fire suppression efforts â€“ and which now threaten a conflagration that could engulf the sequoias.