The government shutdown is now nearing 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, on guiding businesses, on gateway communities, and on folks who have once-in-a-lifetime permits (like our Policy Director, who has a Grand Canyon permit later this month!).
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 places open. It’s undeniable, though, that this is not good for the parks in the long term, and the impacts 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.
There are two big things to learn here:
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, you can write a quick message to your lawmakers asking them to please 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.