It’s the eighth day that the U.S. government has been shut down because of Tea Party Republicans’ insistence on defunding Obamacare at any cost. This is having enormous economic impacts on small businesses across the country, including those located near the 401 national parks and 561 national wildlife refuge that are currently closed to campers, hikers, hunters, and anglers.
Meanwhile, Republican politicians have been criticizing the Obama administration for shutting down national parks, refuges, and other public lands. For example, Sen. Jon Barrasso (R-WY) said in a hearing yesterday that:
The Obama administration has made a concerted effort to intentionally hurt the public. Maybe the [National] Park Service could study how to drop a large curtain in front of the mountains to block the view from the road.
And Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are “in the early stages of examining” a probe into the closure of monuments on the National Mall.
Notwithstanding the challenges of protecting public safety and national park assets on minimal staff and without funding, right-wing media outlets have also attacked the National Park Service for being unable to re-open favorite parks and have gone so far as to vilify uniformed park rangers for “closing down parks, roads, and even scenic bypasses on a whim.” These same outlets have promoted efforts to get citizens to “break the barrier” by illegally entering closed national parks and other federal lands.
Encouraging unlawful access to national parks has serious safety implications, considering the National Park Service’s contingency plan says that — without adequate staffing and resources — it can only be focused on the activities that are “essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
New data from the Center for Western Priorities released Tuesday also shows how spread thin the National Park Service and other federal agencies now are. According to the group’s analysis, before the shutdown there was one National Park Service employee for every 3,400 acres of national parks. But after the House Republican shutdown, there is now one national park ranger or employee on duty for every 26,000 acres of national parks. That’s an area larger than the city of Miami.
Conservative politicians have apparently sensed Americans’ frustration with the situation in Congress, and several are now pressing for special access to their favorite national parks, despite the fact that the National Park Service is out of money. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), for example, has offered to keep the Mount Rushmore National Memorial open with state workers.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) also wants the Grand Canyon to re-open using state funding.
And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has “defied” orders to shut down state parks that receive federal funding.
It costs more than $2 billion a year to run the national park system — a small fraction of the federal budget — but the system welcomes more than 300 million visitors a year and is highly interdependent. Parks now rely heavily on national and regional-level resources within the National Park Service to assist with everything from human resources and communications to law enforcement and emergency response. Picking a single park to re-open is like expecting a major national bank that runs out of money to re-open a single branch. Not to mention the fact that more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of campgrounds, and other federal facilities would still remain closed to public access if national parks were somehow opened on a piecemeal basis.
Of course, as the Center for American Progress and the New York Times pointed out last week, many Republicans who now claim to be outraged by the closure of national parks have had no qualms voting against their funding, forcing closures under sequestration, and working to sell off America’s public lands. These anti-public lands and national parks sentiments are summed up in a tweet from Tea-Party favorite Grover Norquist over the weekend: