The Government Shutdown and Its Impact on Public Lands

Wild places, gateway communities, small businesses, land managers, and recreationists are all hurting under the government shutdown. Check out what's at stake and what you can do about it.
Tania Lown-Hecht Tania Lown-Hecht
Communications Director at Outdoor Alliance
January 18, 2019
This piece comes via our partners at Outdoor Alliance. With their permission, we've edited it to reflect the unique concerns of The Mountaineers and the pacific northwest.

The government shutdown is now the longest in history, and it may continue for weeks or even months. One of the most visible manifestations of the shutdown has been its effects on our national parks, many of which are being kept open despite having few staff and no budget.

Americans love public lands, and closing them has real impacts on people who have traveled long distances to visit. This in turn hurts the economies of gateway communities and the livelihoods of guiding businesses. Organizations like The Mountaineers have felt the effects as well. Our volunteers and youth programs have been forced to change field trip locations, impacting hundreds of instructors and students. Most concerning is the environmental degradation of our wild places, which are suffering without fully-staffed land managers to steward them.

As an organization that works side-by-side with land management staff to conserve public lands and help people get outside, we’re also concerned about the livelihoods of these dedicated professionals.

Elected officials know that closing parks and public lands has political consequences. That’s one of the big reasons why the Department of Interior has gone to such lengths to try to keep these places open. It’s undeniable, though, that this is not good for the parks, and the long-term impacts of the shutdown grow the longer the government stays shuttered. The Administration needs to focus on reopening government rather than on band-aid solutions to help duck political fallout at the expense of the long-term well-being of public lands.

Recently, Acting Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt directed parks to use entrance fees to fund skeleton crews to deal with waste and maintenance. Park fees are set aside for crucial park programs, so diverting them is of questionable legality and is a short-term solution that will have costs down the road.

If we want healthy, sustainable National Parks for the future, public lands need solid funding. Having well-funded land management agencies and happy, well-paid staff to maintain National Parks is crucial.

two big things to learn from this:

  1. Public lands need funding. The last few weeks are a glimpse into the future of public lands if Congress doesn’t adequately fund and support one of our country’s most important resources. Sure, there’s a difference between a funding shortage and the current wild west scenario, but we’re getting a vision into the future of parks if they don’t have the funding they need, and it’s not pretty. It’s not exactly glamorous advocacy, but helping to hustle your members of Congress during appropriations (basically the country’s budgeting) is so important.
  2. Policymakers know that people love public lands – National Parks have been the front page of papers across the country through the shutdown! – and we all have to remember this as we work in the years ahead to advocate for parks and public lands.

If you want to help right now,  write a quick message to your lawmakers asking them to work to reopen the government, and telling them that public lands matter to everyone in the country and to keep that in their minds when they start writing appropriations bills. We’ve made it easy below.

And, not that we need to remind you, but please if you’re planning to visit a park during the shutdown, please practice your very best Leave No Trace principles and probably also poop before you leave the house.  The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has a blog on specific considerations in visiting national public lands during this shutdown.

Contact Your Congressional Reps

Use the link below to easily reach out to your legislators to tell them to reopen the government and fund our public lands. The more you're able to personalize your message, the better!

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