SILVER SPRING, MD –January 11, 2018—The government shutdown has now stretched 21 days tying the longest shutdown in history, with no end in sight. As a result, our National Parks and other public lands are suffering. Widespread reports of overflowing trash and toilets, damage from trespassing on restricted areas, and limited emergency response have made our most treasured places a health and safety hazard. And, without government resources and staffing to maintain these beloved places, they are at risk for long term damage.
The vast majority of the staff are furloughed, funding is cut-off, parks are losing out on entrance and camping fees and concession dollars, and gateway communities are taking a hit in their tourist revenue. With visitor centers being closed, educational programs canceled, and permits for backcountry trips not being issued the experience of those seeking to recreate on public lands is severely limited.
The White House and Congress must end the shutdown and reopen the government, returning the 800,000 federal employees, including those at the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service to work, with the resources of the federal government behind them. And the media must stop using the term “essential”. The work that these furloughed employees do is all essential — the deteriorating state of our parks attests to that. There are furloughed employees and there are excepted employees, all of whom are essential.
While we are heartened by concerned citizens and partner organizations volunteering to remove trash and help prevent vandalism, the burden cannot be left with them to prevent irreversible damage. Plus, the continuation of the shutdown puts at risk the very partnerships between nonprofits and the government that help maintain our trails, like American Hiking’s Volunteer Vacations. Lack of staffing also means much slower emergency response times, making exploration of these natural wonders much more dangerous, even for seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.
Kathryn Van Waes, Executive Director, American Hiking Society provides the following response to the prolonged shutdown, “It’s time for Congress and the White House to reopen the government and resume their responsibility to oversee and fund the protection and maintenance of our National Parks and public lands.”