How America’s National Parks Got Destroyed In One Month

Published on January 19, 2019

Part of the magic of living in a country that celebrates diversity is that it can be found all around you. You’ll see it on your way home from work, as you pass the many neighborhoods of hard-working people that make up the backbone of its major cities. You may see it in entertainment, where representation and diversity is valued in American society more and more every day. You’ll even see it in the capital, where its most passionate citizens are fighting almost constantly to be seen and represented. But you’ll also see it in America’s landscape—in the 59 National Parks that make up a diverse backdrop of oceans, rivers, mountains, deserts and forests from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northernmost tip of Alaska. The parks are there for everyone, but they’re getting destroyed more and more every day during the government shutdown.

Lasting Impact

While many National parks have stayed open during the partial government shutdown, petitions have been circulating the internet to close them until they can resume their regular staffing. Many of the park employees and rangers have been left without pay as they’ve been furloughed during this time.

In the meantime, vandals and park attendees have taken the opportunity to freely destroy much of the natural landscapes. This land is usually under the highest protection of any other land in the country. Emergency employees are still working, hoping that they may be paid soon. Employees that are there to do things like clean up public spaces and monitor crowds are gone, though.

Four wheelers have plowed over irreplaceable Joshua Trees in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Garbage sits freely in piles around parks as no one is there to empty the trash cans. Even if the parks can get cleaned up immediately, the wildlife in these protected areas may suffer a longer impact.

The piled-up garbage and chopped-down trees may be something that rangers can clean up once the parks reopen. The longer-lasting impact, though, is to the land that these things are on. Tire marks now lie on sensitive, previously protected desert floors. Illegal camping and burn marks have damaged the land that these ecosystems depend on. These environments take decades to develop, but have been destroyed in under a month.

Moving Forward

The impact of the government shutdown reaches much further than just to the far corners of America’s National Parks. Employees that are part of organizations like TSA have been left unpaid for weeks. The President’s economists have estimated that the impact of the shutdown shaves as much as .13 percent off of the country’s economic growth for every day.

With no end in sight, it’s hard to say how the impact is going to last. There are, however, ways that you can help. The National Parks Foundation is asking for people to volunteer their time once the shutdown ends. If you’ve got some extra time and would like to help clean up the parks, head here to find out more information. In the meantime, thank your next TSA agent.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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