Public lands can’t afford another shutdown

Rocky Mountain National Park.

During the partial federal government shutdown and in its wake, we were witness to several stories of damage done to public lands facilities, and to the lands themselves.

Overflowing toilets. Truckloads of trash scattered in campgrounds and on trails. Acts of vandalism. And perhaps most troubling, the cutting down of ancient Joshua trees in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Some of these actions may take decades or even longer to mend.

There were other losses, too. Deferred maintenance got kicked down the road even further. Scientific studies carried out by federally employed researchers were delayed, and in many cases, possibly hopelessly compromised.

And all of this on top of the fact that thousands of employees went more than a month between paychecks, creating that much more strain on the caretakers of the lands that we treasure. While government employees will get back pay, thousands of private sector contractors are getting stiffed.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was a relief to see the shutdown end. It’s been said, numerous times, that forcing government shutdowns is a losing political tactic, as the one who makes that move invariably gets blamed.

That said, another deadline is looming in about a week. There’s no telling where this winds up – a deal on border security, another shutdown, or a raising of the white flag by whoever. But the threat of another stoppage still exists, and if that happens, we all end up being losers.

Now might be a good time to make a few phone calls, send a few emails and write some letters to your congressional representatives and to the White House. Enough of this foolishness. There are far too many lives affected by a shutdown, and far too much potential harm to the places we value so highly in this country.

It’s been said that the national park system is America’s greatest idea, and I’d extend that to the rest of our public lands. It’s about time those who govern us acted like they believe it.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Bob Doucette

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The government shutdown and public lands: Deeper reasons why this matters

PARKSCLOSED

By now a bunch of people have weighed in with a ton of opinions related to this week’s government shutdown. You know the drill…

The tea party GOP is at fault for forcing this crisis…

Barack Obama and Sen. Harry Reid are at fault for “not negotiating.”…

Everyone in Washington is at fault because they all stink.

OK, whatever. Whole lotta views and finger-pointing going on, including some by me (I have family deeply affected by the shutdown) which won’t go anywhere near this space. That’s a promise.

Obviously, there are a ton of repercussions. Being outdoor-minded, one of the first I noticed is how this affects public lands. You know, national parks and stuff.

The refrain that I’ve seen is that “public lands belong to us; I don’t need the government to help me take a walk in the woods.” Or something to that effect.

You know what? That’s true. There isn’t much that can stop you from going into a national park on your own, shutdown or not. And please feel free to do so. It is, after all, your lands.

But that’s also not the point.

What is?

Livelihoods.

Lots of federal workers are being told they cannot report to work, and are not being paid. Depending on how long this drags on, that’s going to affect their households quite a bit. And before you drone on about “lazy government workers,” just stop. There are good, hard-working people in every sector, and they vastly outnumber the bad. Denigrating other people’s professions — and the service they provide YOU, the taxpayer — doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m grateful for the people who work to maintain and protect our public lands, and if you use those spaces, you should be, too.

Conversely, we should also feel some compassion for people who might not know how they’re going to pay their bills and put food on the table this month.

The “essential” workers are on the job, but they’re not getting paid, either. So those rangers, law enforcement officers and others who patrol public lands are working for you — for free. Hopefully that status changes soon, and hopefully they get their back pay.

But this goes beyond the government workers. Plenty of businesses exist within public lands, and those places have had to shut down, too. Hotels and lodges, restaurants, tour companies, and more; small business owners and their employees are getting hurt.

Closures of parks means fewer visitors to nearby towns. Businesses in those communities are going to feel the bite, and quick. Will they be forced to cut their workers’ hours? Lay people off? That possibility looms large.

And still there are others — outdoor/travel writers, guides and more — whose livings are tightly bound to legal access to public lands. They can’t afford to have their permits yanked by disobeying closure orders. So for future considerations, a lot of these folks are forced to bite the bullet now — and pray they can survive one hungry month (or more).

What’s my point? It’s this: Go beyond how the government shutdown directly affects you and your access to public lands. Think about the people whose lives are tied to these wonderful spaces; to the people who keep them safe; to the folks who build and maintain the trails you hike; to the heroes who save the lives of folks who get into trouble in the backcountry; to the researchers who help preserve the wildlife we long to see out in the bush.

Your access is not the main issue. The entire system is. This land is, indeed, your land. But it’s also my land. And everyone else’s. You should give a damn because a lot of the people charged with caring for it aren’t allowed to go to work, and the many others who make our stays enjoyable, fun and comfortable when we visit these great spaces are hurting.

I can’t tell you what you should do from here. But maybe you should think about doing a little more than “poaching the parks.” Call your congressman and senators. If you know folks who are off the job, show them some kindness. Write the president. Vote.

Because in reality, this ain’t just about you. We’re all in this together.

(One small side note: Plenty of people have already paid for permits to vacation in places like the Grand Canyon, and in cases of white water rafting, have been waiting for years and spent a lot of money. This really stinks for them, too; hard-earned money going down the drain. I feel for you.)

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Government shutdown could mean limited access to national parks, public lands

A congressional deadlock over government funding could mean a loss of access to and activities on many public lands.

A congressional deadlock over government funding could mean a loss of access to and activities on many public lands.

There has been a lot of talk in the news about how a government shutdown will affect the country, its public services, the economy and people’s jobs.

Just so you know, it will also affect some of the places you like to go outdoors.

If Congress does not break its current deadlock over government funding by Tuesday, there will be an impact on public lands.

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently put out a memo describing what federal government functions will and will not continue on public lands as a result of a government shutdown.

You can expect law enforcement duties will still occur in national parks and national monuments, as well as firefighting duties, coastal patrols and access to through roads.

But visitors centers will be closed, and anyone staying at hotels, lodges and campsites in the National Park System will have 48 hours to leave those places once a shutdown occurs.

A lot of other services (education programs, special permits for activities, etc.) will also be cancelled until Congress can come up with some sort of funding plan for the federal government.

So if you have any plans that include going into public lands (particularly NPS lands), watch this situation closely and plan accordingly.

To read the Interior Department memo, click this link.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088