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Government Shutdown Public Lands

How A Government Shutdown Could Impact Public Lands and Gateway Communities

DENVER, CO – As the deadline for an agreement to fund the federal government draws near, many agencies are preparing to send their staff home and stop all nonessential functions. This includes the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, US Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management. In a statement issued yesterday, the DOI said they were beginning preparations to start closing parks and public recreation areas.

“At NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed. Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety.”

During a government shutdown, most park and forest rangers and staff are furloughed until Congress resolves the financial crisis. This means there are no park services, litter clean-up, maintenance, and in some places, rescue teams. Roads will go unplowed, and laws and regulations will go unenforced. While many national parks will close to the public, national forests and BLM land cover millions of acres and remain accessible.

The National Forest Foundation and Leave No Trace organization encourage hikers, climbers, and other visitors to public lands to consider pivoting away from federal lands during shutdowns. Instead, try exploring a nearby state, county, or city park. If you choose to visit federal lands, you must take extra safety precautions, as rescues will likely be delayed or unavailable.

Additionally, continue to practice Leave No Trace ethics to avoid causing any damage during this extra sensitive time:

  • Stay on trails and use pre-existing campsites,
  • Camp 200ft from water and move sites frequently,
  • Minimize campfire impacts by keeping them small and in rings,
  • Put fires out cold to the touch and watch them at all times,
  • Respect wildlife by keeping food secured and giving them space,
  • Be courteous to others outdoors. Use headphones, not speakers,

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

In addition to environmental impacts, the government shutdown will create devastating financial hardship for the small communities near public lands, including ‘gateway’ towns near major national parks that rely on tourism traffic. During previous closures, these small towns lost millions of dollars that threatened jobs and businesses during the days when parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton closed. Without visitors to fill their hotels and restaurants, the towns’ economies ground to a halt.

With those memories fresh in mind, the Governors of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona have announced they intend to continue funding their state’s national park operations if the shutdown occurs to ensure the impact is contained as much as possible. Citing precedent, they would be reimbursed once an appropriation bill is passed and the shutdown ends. The states claim the decision is an economic no-brainer to support the economy. They cite a National Parks Conservation Association report that says every $1 invested in the Park Service creates more than $15 in economic activity.

In light of these impacts, consider visiting non-federal lands and exploring local state, county, or city parks during the shutdown. You can also email or call your federal representative and urge them to avoid a shutdown and the damage it would cause to our national parks, forests, and other public lands.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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