The Long-Term Impacts of a Short-Term Shutdown
America’s national parks and the dedicated public servants who maintain them have become unwitting victims of the government shutdown, and the damage will last far longer than the shutdown itself.
Having recently come on board here at Outdoor Industry Association, I had hoped this first update from me would provide a hopeful and optimistic overview of our 2019 policy agenda, which, as always, will focus on public lands and waters. Unfortunately, due to a partial government shutdown that has left the Interior Department unfunded, we are currently focused on ensuring that our public lands are both protected and accessible, and the people dedicated to their stewardship are appropriately compensated for their work. As our friends from the American Alpine Club note in their open letter, which you can read here, “the direct loss of income for government workers and the mounting resource damage to our most beloved parks is abhorrent, but many more are quietly facing hardship. Suffering in the shadows of this shutdown are tourism-based economies and small businesses that provide guided access and interpretation to our public lands.”
This partial shutdown has left a lot of people wondering: Should we close our national parks or keep them open—fully or partially—while the government holds budgets hostage? But the question is flawed because it pits access and protection against one another. In our public lands and national parks, protection and access go hand-in-hand; you can’t have one without the other.
Closing the parks means more than denying access to visitors. It means denying access to the stewards who maintain the parks’ infrastructure. It means delaying maintenance—especially in the winter months—which leads to compounding expenses. Closing the parks means putting at risk tourism revenue for gateway communities —revenue that normally averages $20 million a day in January. Closing the parks denies the National Park Service more than $400,000 a day in entrance-fee revenue—money that has historically been used to subsidize federal budget cuts. Closing the parks is not an acceptable response to government’s abdication of its responsibility.
But neither is keeping the parks open—fully or partially—with scaled-back resources and staffing. Never mind that the parks have been underfunded for years, creating a growing maintenance backlog. Keeping parks open but so severely budget constrained is simply unsustainable. Look no further than overflowing trash bins, accumulating human waste, unchecked vandalism and crime, and compromised search-and-rescue efforts to understand how dangerous and irresponsible the current situation is. Humans, wildlife and our natural resources are all at risk. That is to say nothing of the people who, despite their dedicated service and stewardship to our national treasures, have gone three weeks without pay and no resolution in sight. Many of them are now filing for unemployment benefits.
Congressional members and their staffs are hearing from us just how harmful the current shutdown is not only to our public lands, but to gateway communities that rely on visitation to our national parks and to the dedicated men and women who protect those special places and ensure the lands are protected.
Yesterday, OIA joined with other outdoor and conservation groups to urge Congress to approve the fiscal year 2019 Interior appropriations bill immediately to reopen the government. CEO letter to President Trump and Congressional leadership regarding FY19 Interior appropriations.
There are few places where the long-term, compounding effects of a government shutdown are more apparent than in our national parks. We need to put this shutdown behind us before irrevocable harm is done to our most treasured lands. It’s time to open our government and fully fund access and protection of our national parks.