It had been over a month since the government shut down at midnight on Dec. 22. On Friday, President Trump signed, to the surprise of many, a bill to temporarily reopen the government. However, the conflict is far from over. Trump has stated that he plans to shut it down once more if funding for his wall isn’t secured within three weeks. This conflict appears to be one of egos over ideologies and determination to make sure the other side doesn’t get what it wants.
There was one enormous factor that the media and the American people paid little attention to, a factor that they, along with the mogul-in-chief, have consistently taken for granted. The nation’s national parks, its wildlife refuges, and its endangered species were put in harm’s way and disregarded to a dastardly degree during this shutdown, and they face a far more grave fate should plans for the wall move forward.
One of the more notable effects of the government shutdown (technically dubbed a “partial-shutdown”) was the furlough of some 800,000 federal employees, including the majority of those that work for the National Park Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Service, which employ over 29,000 employees and maintain the spaces in which Americans can experience the nation’s natural beauty and protect that natural space and its residents.
In years past, under the Obama and Clinton administrations, a closure of the government meant closure of the national parks. This was primarily a way for the government to generate a desire for government reopening in the American people, but also as a way to make sure that individuals were unable to enter the parks and abuse the areas. Under the current administration, one which seemed content to leave the government closed for “months, or even years,” as the president put it, the generation of a public outcry was unnecessary. As a result, Trump broke rank with his predecessors and left the parks open.
This resulted in scenes like that at Joshua Tree National Park, where skeleton crews of unpaid staff and volunteers were unable to keep up the demands meant for a small legion of park rangers; naturally, debauchery and abuse have ensued. Overflowing toilets and garbage cans long in need of retrieval and general damage to the park itself, namely the iconic trees that give the park its name were vandalized and cut down during the outset of the shutdown.
Not only this, but without staff, the parks have been unable to collect entrance fees or run gift shops, and as result, parks lost massive amounts of revenue. At parks like Joshua Tree, where winter is considered a peak season, the results can be catastrophic.
This can be felt all the way up to Maine’s Acadia National Park. The Department of the Interior began to allow parks to use entrance fee funds as a means to pay a small assortment of staffers for trash clean-up, so as to maintain at least a semblance of integrity. Acadia used this money to pay for road plowing so that the task was not insurmountable when the government reopened.
This was all well and good until one realizes that entrance fee money is actually meant to be used for park maintenance and renovation to further promote the park and generate a space that can shock a visitor out of their drab suburban mindset. In essence, the federal government forced parks to foot their half of the bill, while at the same time preventing them from taking in any revenue. This could be repeated if the government was to close again, and parks will be forced to endure the harmful effects once more.
Donald Trump only cares about one thing, and that is winning. It is not a success as most people perceive it, because it is twisted by a childishly stubborn subjectivity. Things like national parks, endangered species, and regulations to protect such things are just obstacles standing in the way of a 700-mile long symbol of his ego. One can only hope that future generations will look back and shake their heads.