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National Parks Suffered Irreparable Damage During the Shutdown

During the 35-day partial government shutdown, Joshua Tree National Park suffered damage that will be irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years, former park superintendent Curt Sauer said at a rally on Saturday.

Joshua Tree was one of the many national parks kept open but unstaffed or understaffed during the shutdown, with serious consequences for the parks, their employees, and their visitors. The lack of supervision led to damage at Joshua Tree including vandalism, tree-killing, and overflows of trash and human waste.

Here are a few more of the impacts felt across the national park system:

  • Trash accumulated in wildlife-rich parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. This could ruin efforts to de-habituate bears from human food and result in a rise in bear attacks.
  • At Death Valley National Park, tire marks from off-road vehicles etched into the delicate landscape will take centuries to fade.
  • While 16,000 furloughed park service employees stayed home and missed paychecks, unsupervised park visitors put themselves at greater risk of harm. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, a hiker at Yosemite died from a fall after chasing his dog down a dangerous trail that park rangers would have typically prevented him from taking.
  • On top of the harm done to parks and visitors themselves, the NPCA estimated that the National Park Service lost $400,000 per day from entrance fee revenue.

Since a spending bill passed on Friday to temporarily end the shutdown, furloughed workers will be able to return to work until February 15th. Parks are slowly beginning to reopen, but it will be a lengthy process for places like Mount Rainier National Park, where it will take days to clear roads of massive snow accumulation. The NPCA encourages people to wait until parks are fully staffed and open to visit.

"We now need an immediate, comprehensive assessment of the damages our parks suffered during the shutdown and urge Congress to provide supplemental funding to the National Park Service to cover the costs of cleanup and repair at every affected unit," Diane Regas, president of the Trust for Public Land, told E&E News.