For Public Lands, the Shutdown is About more than National Parks

Maroon Bells, one of the most photographed places in Colorado, is closed to visitors during the shutdown. (Ann Morgan)
Maroon Bells, one of the most photographed places in Colorado, is closed to visitors during the shutdown. NWF photo by Ann Morgan.
Closing the National Parks, museums and monuments to the recreating public and closing National Wildlife Refuges to hunters during the fall hunting season has gotten the public’s attention and resulted in calls for some parts of the government to be funded and not others.  This is as arbitrary as deciding which government employees are essential and which are not.  I was the Bureau of Land Management State Director in Nevada during the 1995 and 1996 government shut downs and, like many of you, I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu.

Clearly, outdoor recreation—including hunting and fishing—is big business.  The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million jobs nationally and produces $646 billion in spending each year. However, restricted recreational access to our public lands is only one aspect of the impact of the government furlough.

The federal government is the largest landowner in the country and with that goes the responsibilities of land management and stewardship of our natural resources, extending well beyond just supporting the American public’s desire for outdoor recreation.  Nearly 640 million acres of land are managed by four agencies, the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and US Fish and Wildlife Service.  In addition to outdoor recreation, these lands are managed for fisheries and wildlife, clean water, timber and mineral development, wilderness, education and research, and protecting historical and cultural resources.

Stretched Thin

During the shutdown, resources to respond to wildfire management will be limited to wildfire suppression but planning for and executing prescribed fires and reducing fire threats to local communities are on hold.  The fall season is often a key window of opportunity for prescribed fires and burning slash piles to reduce wildfire danger.

Collegiate Peaks
A storm sweeps over Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks. NWF photo by Ann Morgan.
Law Enforcement Officers remain on the job, but given that there may only be one Law Enforcement Officer to cover a million acres, the myriad of recreation specialists, range managers, archeologists, and other field personnel will not be on the job acting as the eyes and ears of law enforcement.

Repairs and maintenance of trails, campgrounds, restrooms, fencing, roads and bridges, water systems, and visitor centers are not being done and may have to be delayed until early next summer when the weather conditions permit, adding to the backlog.  The agencies’ ability to utilize volunteers and partnerships is put on hold with the loss of many volunteer hours and the loss of a fall season of work.

The shutdown makes it hard for tourists to view the spectacular show that Colorado’s aspen trees put on every fall. NWF photo by Ann Morgan.
Basic land management such as inventorying and mapping of plants, animals and cultural sites; controlling noxious weeds; monitoring air, water, and wildlife; restoration of streams and riparian areas; environmental analysis, and reseeding and shoring up fire-ravaged hillsides and canyons will be delayed or foregone.  A skeleton crew of inspection and enforcement staff at the BLM will perform well shut-ins and patrol millions of acres of federal leases to make sure that theft of oil or condensate is not occurring.

Public Service on Public Lands? Think Again.

Providing information to the public such as maps to hunters and campers, answering questions from recreating families and tourists, researching property records, providing public documents and reports, and processing Freedom of Information Act requests has stopped during the furlough.

After ten days not everyone has noticed the fact that the nation’s largest landlord has had to stop managing our public lands, but as time goes by more and more will and there is a price to pay for neglect.  That price will be paid not only by local communities losing fall tourism revenue and families unable to hunt on wildlife refuges or take long-planned family vacations in National Parks, but by all Americans who care about their land, wildlife, water and air.

Take Action Button Tell your member of Congress that they need to pass a funding bill so that vital wildlife conservation, environmental protection and many other vital services can continue.