US National Park Service former director says keeping parks open during the shutdown is a terrible mistake

Jonathan B. Jarvis, a former director of the US National Park Service, says that keeping national parks open during the current partial federal government shutdown is a terrible mistake. He writes in today's Guardian:

Leaving the parks open without these essential staff is equivalent to leaving the Smithsonian museums open without any staff to protect the priceless artefacts. Yet as a result of the government shutdown, which furloughed most park staff, this is what has happened. It is a violation of the stewardship mandate, motivated only by politics. While the majority of the public will be respectful, there will always be a few who take advantage of the opportunity to do lasting damage.

Jonathan B. Jarvis was the 18th director of the US National Park Service. He is now the executive director for the Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity at the University of California, Berkeley.

As the shutdown has dragged into its 13th day and the parks are left open but unstaffed, Jonathan points to the ugly consequences:

  • Trash is already accumulating in parks such as Yosemite, and will attract wildlife. This could result in tragic human/bear encounters, or habituate bears to human food, meaning the animals will have to be relocated or euthanized in the future.
  • Civil war battlefield parks are seeing increases in artefact theft by people with metal detectors.
  • Human waste has overwhelmed toilets in Joshua Tree and Point Reyes and has proliferated along trails, rivers and streams, potentially impacting water quality and certainly the visitor experience.
  • Roads normally open in Mt Rainier and Crater Lake national parks are accumulating so much snow that they will have to be bulldozed to reopen, at a much higher expense and with prolonged delays.
  • Visitor centers are closed across the parks, depriving visitors of information on hazardous conditions, trail closures and wildlife activity.
  • Wildlife, normally fully protected, will be subject to poaching or threats, such as the recent break-in at the endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish enclosure in Nevada.
  • Visitors to parks are reporting dogs off leash, drone activity, off-highway vehicles and the public walking on or near fragile resources, such as the hot pools and thermal features of Yellowstone.
  • The control of the spread of invasive species into national parks stops, allowing some to gain a foothold that will be much harder to control.
  • Long-term monitoring sites that measure snow depth, rainfall, air quality, water quality or pollution will go unmaintained. Research scientists working on complex issues that only occur during this period, such as pronghorn migration, may miss their window. These disruptions of data collection make the results less reliable for understanding ecosystem dynamics or climate change.

Write your congressional representatives to bring the federal government shutdown to an end and ensure that, in accordance with the National Park Service’s founding charter, the national parks remain “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”.

Update: The United States federal government partial shutdown that began on Saturday, December 22, 2018 ended on Friday, January 25, 2019.