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UPDATED: Should the U.S. Close Its National Parks During the Shutdown?

by Countable | 1.7.19

UPDATE - January 9, 2019:

  • California's Joshua Tree National Park will be temporarily closed as of Thursday morning after visitors caused damage during the partial government shutdown.
  • "While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree National Park do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure," the park said in a statement.
  • Sections of Yosemite National Park, and much of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks are closed as well.

What’s the story?

  • In a departure from previous government shutdowns, the Trump administration decided to leave national parks open though the Interior Department halted a majority of its operations.
  • This has resulted in widespread reports of degradation in parks, including visitors scattering garbage on roads, a build-up of human waste, illegal off-roading, increases in artifact theft at Civil War battlefields, and people letting their dogs run off-leash in areas rich with bears.
  • Former Park Service Chief Jonathan Jarvis said that keeping national parks open during the shutdown is a “terrible mistake.”
“Leaving the parks open without these essential staff is equivalent to leaving the Smithsonian museums open without any staff to protect the priceless artifacts.”

Tourists left to run amok, putting people, animals, and natural features at risk”

  • In his op-ed for The Guardian, Jarvis explained that national parks operate much like mini-cities, “with the National Park Service employees providing all the same services: trash collection, police and fire response, water and sewer systems, electrical power, bus service and parking management.”
  • Leaving the parks open while the employees are furloughed, he wrote, “is a violation of the stewardship mandate, motivated only by politics. While the majority of the public will be respectful, there will always be a few who take advantage of the opportunity to do lasting damage.”
  • This was the impetus behind shuttering the campgrounds at California’s Joshua Tree National Park last Wednesday.
"The park is being forced to take this action for health and safety concerns as vault toilets reach capacity," NPS wrote in a statement. "In addition to human waste in public areas, driving off road and other infractions that damage the resource are becoming a problem."

NPS plans to expand operations

  • In an unprecedented move, the NPS announced it plans to dip into entrance fee funds to pay for expanded operations during the partial government shutdown.
"NPS will begin to use these funds to clean up trash that has built up at numerous parks, clean and maintain restrooms, bring additional law enforcement rangers into parks to patrol accessible areas, and to restore accessibility to areas that would typically be accessible this time of year," the agency wrote in a press release on Sunday.

What do you think?

Should the U.S. close its national parks during the shutdown? Is keeping them open a “terrible mistake”? Take action and tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: @GlacierHub via Twitter)

Countable

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