The Government Shutdown and Our Public Lands

I would expect most already know that we are currently in the longest partial government shutdown ever in the USA. There are plenty of stories coming from the crisis that range from heartbreaking to infuriating. With the current political climate, there isn’t an end in sight yet either. This is unfortunate for many reasons, but I would like to focus in on what this means today and going forward with our public lands.

Government Shutdown

Without the funds to operate facilities and pay for staff to continue working, most of our national parks have stayed essentially closed. Since they are large swaths of land with important roads running through many, the closure doesn’t mean people are cut off completely from access. It does mean that they are without critical maintenance workers, park rangers, and others part of normal daily operations. 

It has created a situation where large crowds are still going to these spots, but the locations are no longer able to handle the traffic. There is a real danger of causing irreversible damage and potential for more hazards than typical. One individual has already died on public land in Arizona (though it is difficult to say this is directly resulting from the issues presented) at Horseshoe Bend during the government shutdown.

Luckily, some states have seen the importance of helping to keep the parks operating at some level and have provided some funding during this time. However, during the shutdown, many of the parks and other public lands under federal protection are losing out on income generated from entries to the parks, campers, and other sales. As the shutdown passes over three weeks, this is a significant amount that would normally help the parks maintain themselves! I think this might be the silliest thing because the shutdown started because a budget couldn’t be determined… so, let’s just cut out some of that income until we figure this out right?!

I think there might be a strong case to be made at this point for closing the parks entirely. They aren’t generating the income and without the infrastructure that normally supports their functions, it could be dangerous or harmful to the environment. If these reasons aren’t enough already, I think there are still some more that might help sway your opinion!

Damage and Destruction

Public lands and, more specifically, our national parks commonly use rangers to protect the lands and wildlife while also educating people on how to behave. They have the authority to remove and reprimand individuals that disrespect or damage the parks. Since they have been removed from these areas (There may still be a skeleton crew but nowhere near enough.) there has been an increase in disappointing news.

Extremely disrespectful people are flocking to these places because they can get away with things they wouldn’t normally. Already, there have been Joshua Trees in the National Park cut down to create roads through the protected desert. These trees are nearly extinct and the desert is a fragile ecosystem that cannot handle roads crossing it everywhere! 

The lacking of fees at the parks has encouraged those who wouldn’t normally go to these parks to come in. While I would normally say that someone going to nature is a good thing because it can positively influence their lives, this is the wrong demographic in many cases. The individuals coming to national parks during the shutdown have been looking to do illegal things like off-roading on fragile wilderness, littering in the backcountry, creating graffiti on ancient rocks and trees, and starting fires in areas that could easily get out of control.

Good People doing Good Things

At this point, it is easy to see why we should seriously be considering closing these national parks if they can’t be properly staffed. It is a sad thing to see these places set aside for citizens to visit and see our natural world in a preserved form closed off because of a government shutdown. A sadder thing, though, is watching as they are destroyed by individuals that don’t care for them and generally lacking proper attention from employees while understaffed. Joshua Tree is supposed to shut down at some point in order to have some cleaning done and other maintenance and almost all campgrounds are closed, but I am trying to say the entirety of the national parks system should be shuttered until further notice.

There is a bright side to these stories as volunteers and organizations are coming to the rescue. Good people are taking PTO and days off to come to pick up trash, clean areas, and some are even trying to prevent others from causing more harm (be careful though as it may be dangerous to your health doing this). I read about several religious groups pulling together their members to do their part, and even more organizations in nature/hiking communities encouraging this behavior. 

There are many things that you can do to do your part. To start, just try to leave it better than you found it. Practicing leave no trace is a great way of making sure you don’t contribute to the destruction or deterioration of our natural environments. Going above and beyond would be collecting trash or doing some other small things if you chose to go out to the parks or other federally managed lands during the shutdown. Actually, you can even do this when the government isn’t shut down to help keep nature being natural!

Summing it up…

If you aren’t going to be on location during the shutdown or you want to do even more, there are still some other ways to help out. Raising your own voice is a great way of bringing awareness to the issue and gathering more individuals that mean well. Herd mentality is a great thing! Raising awareness to the situation as well as opening up a conversation about what should be done in the future to prevent it from happening like this again is a great thing. Also, don’t forget to vote and make sure your voice is heard during elections (otherwise, those in the government might not care).  You can also donate directly to the national parks or your favorite park at this point which I will leave a link to here. (https://www.nps.gov/getinvolved/donate.htm) This helps to get the park to recover after the shutdown as well as keep things as they ought to be during normal operations during the rest of the year!

Update:

  • After posting, I found an Instagram post where an individual in the landscape photography community was involved in a negative way. He decided it was a good idea to go into the recently burned Columbia River Gorge where work is still being done to make the trails safe and reliable to handle foot traffic. Of course, it is still very much illegal to trespass at this point in time! He thought (and openly admitted) to expecting to be able to go into the area because of the government shutdown. Luckily, this area is still being patrolled by rangers working through the furlough without pay (very thankful for their hard work and dedication to these areas even without pay, they don’t get enough respect for this). He was hit with a hefty fine and I am certain a stern talking to, but it likely wasn’t enough because he was still proud of what he had done. He even blamed getting caught on “fake news” and the ‘leftist’ media! I may never understand the limits of stupidity…

  • Since posting, he has removed the description and story, but just to make sure others can see what kind of quality human being this man is I took screenshots and included them down below! :)

  • Final update: He went a couple of incremental steps further since the last update. At first, he had all the comments removed from the post. After that, there must have been some additional negative feedback in other ways, so now the account is set to private. Then, in the next morning, he went back to a public account with comments turned off in newer posts.

An earlier screen grab captured by  Michael Howard . A great photographer, check out his work!

An earlier screen grab captured by Michael Howard. A great photographer, check out his work!

This is the image he captured while illegally trespassing on federally protected land.

This is the image he captured while illegally trespassing on federally protected land.

What he changed the description to for this morning. Later, he deleted it almost entirely down only to the location tag.

What he changed the description to for this morning. Later, he deleted it almost entirely down only to the location tag.