Shutdown FAQs: Answers to your questions about impacts to visitors and wildlands

Currently there are no visitors allowed in our national parks.
Photo by Matt Carman
Puzzled by what the shutdown means for our public lands? Find answers here.

Update on partial park system opening: On Oct. 12, the Department of Interior allowed several states to use state funding to open some national parks on Oct. 12. These states include, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota and New York. Responding to requests from Governors of at least four states, who were concerned about the economic impacts caused by park closures, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has allowed these states to pay for park operations. While The Wilderness Society appreciates the states' willingness to reopen their national parks, we believe the only long-term solution is to pass a clean continuing resolution to reopen the entire federal government.


Question: Now that the government is shut down, can I visit national parks or other federally managed wildlands?

Answer: Sadly, all the majority of the nation’s magnificent national parks and park units, 561 national wildlife refuges, 108 national monuments as well as all national forest and BLM visitor centers are closed to the public. As of October 12, some states, including Arizona, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota and New York, were using their own funding to pay to open parks.  This closure of parks is a distressing situation for travelers throughout the country who have lost plans and money while the government continues its shutdown. Many people have traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles only to find closed gates and doors at beloved recreation and cultural sites. Dream trips have been ruined, as have special events like private weddings and educational outings planned at the parks. Other would-be visitors have lost the ability to secure reservations or backcountry permits. 

Astoundingly, while you and I are locked out of our national parks and wildland facilities, Congress is actually considering a new bill to open Yosemite to logging and others that would sell off wildlands to mining and energy interests.  

Learn more about national park closures

Question: What if I have a reservation at a park hotel or campground?

Answer: Unfortunately, if you have reservations at a park campground or lodge, you will not be able to get in. Guests staying at national park campgrounds and lodges were given 48 hours to leave once the government shutdown on Oct. 1st and no further guests are allowed into the parks. According to the Department of Interior’s contingency plan, the individual park concessions will decide if refunds will be made, so you will need to follow up with the lodge holding your reservation. Some of the park lodges have posted on their web sites that they will refund your money, or postpone your reservation. 

What about visiting national forests or places that don’t have entry? 

Answer: In places like national forests, you can still access open lands, but keep in mind that all visitor centers, facilities and educational services will be closed. While trails may be accessible, access to some lands may be restricted by possible road closures.  Law enforcement and rescue staff are at a minimum, so keep that in mind as you visit the backcountry.

Question: Doesn’t the closure of national parks and refuges give wildlife a needed break from humans?

Answer: While the shutdown may mean fewer humans on our public lands, the reality is that service employees help monitor and protect wildlife. Park employees are essential to preventing illegal dumping, poaching of wildlife and destruction or vandalism of cultural artifacts -- all of which are issues at our parks even when the government is fully functioning. These federal employees are also engaged in important conservation, restoration, research and educational projects that help wildlife and the shutdown interferes with that work. As an example, employees at our national wildlife refuges will no longer be working on the listing of imperiled animals under the endangered species act.


Question: What kind of wildlands and conservation work is being interrupted by the shutdown?

Answer: The shutdown impacts myriad activities that benefit wildlife and wildlands.

  • At wildlife refuges, the listing of imperiled animals under the endangered species act has been stalled.
  • For the Forest Service, restoration, conservation and fire mitigation efforts have stopped.
  • At the EPA, where more than 90 percent of the workforce has been furloughed, progress has halted at more than 500 superfund sites, while the EPA’s work on rules governing greenhouse gases has also stalled.
  • Work towards a clean energy future is also interrupted. All permitting for clean renewable energy facilities is halted, which will stall or deter development of more than a dozen wind and solar projects (enough to power more than a million homes). And construction on permitted facilities is also delayed, putting investments at risk.
  • Efforts to make plans to build smart in the future are offline. Landscape level planning processes and federal engagement with stakeholders will be halted, including the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a plan that encompasses over 22 million acres of public land.

These are just a few examples of important work that has been interrupted by the government shutdown.

Question: How are local communities harmed by the closure of national parks?

Answer: October is an important tourist month for parks and refuges, as well as for the surrounding communities that rely on recreation dollars. Fall is a time when tourists come to see changing foliage, fall wildlife rituals or to enjoy the cooler weather at some desert parks. It is also high hunting season for wildlife refuges that permit hunting and fishing. Much of the economic exchanges around these activities is being lost right now as the government continues its shutdown. Local hotels, outfitters and guides are experiencing mass cancellations, while many other local businesses report fear of bankruptcy as a result of lost business. All together, gateway communities throughout the United States are losing income to the tune of $76 million every day that the parks are closed. 

Question: How important are our public wildlands to the economy?

Answer: Very. The outdoor recreation economy generates almost $700 billion annually in economic activity; every day that our public lands remain closed to visitors, our economy loses $2 billion.

Tourist towns near parks and monuments rely heavily on recreation dollars, and these towns are already being hit hard by the current shutdown.The National Park Service also loses funds from entrance fees. As an example, BLM lands alone contribute more than $7 billion to local communities annually. Every day the government remains shut down, gateway communities and local economies are being deprived of over $19 million in economic activity directly related to our BLM lands.

Question: How much is our economy losing due to the closure of national parks and wildlands?

Answer: The outdoor recreation economy generates almost $700 billion annually in economic activity. Every day that our public lands remain closed to visitors, our economy loses $2 billion.

Question: How does the shutdown put wildlands and people at risk?

Answer: Safety and monitoring personnel will be significantly reduced at public wildlands, and enforcement of environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and NEPA, will be all but eliminated.

While wildfire suppression will continue, it will be with significantly reduced capacity. This endangers the lives and property of wildland firefighters and surrounding communities. All but 600 of the BLM’s nearly 11,000 employees will be furloughed. Of the remaining employees, only 170 are tasked with responding to emergencies across all BLM lands across the nation.

The shutdown also makes drilling on our public lands less safe. Safety inspectors and law enforcement personnel are significantly reduced, and many monitoring activities are halted, undermining the enforcement of all environmental laws and dramatically increasing the risk of an environmental disaster.

Question: Does the shutdown impact energy activities on public lands?

Answer: Though all visitors are barred from their public lands, oil and gas drilling continues in our wildlife refuges, in some parks, and across our public lands. There are tens of thousands of oil and natural gas wells on public lands, with thousands more currently approved for drilling – this activity won’t stop and just got riskier.

The shutdown also impacts our progress towards a cleaner energy future. All permitting for clean renewable energy facilities is halted, which will stall or deter development of more than a dozen wind and solar projects (enough to power more than a million homes). And construction on permitted facilities is also delayed, putting investments at risk. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick down on critical tax incentives like the production tax credit for wind (expires December 2013) and the investment tax credit for solar (effectively expires December 2014).

Efforts to make plans to build smart in the future are offline. Landscape level planning processes and federal engagement with stakeholders will be halted, including the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), a plan that encompasses over 22 million acres of public land.

Question: What are the longer term impacts of government shutdown to wildlands?

Answer: When the parks, monuments and refuges re-open, there will be a massive backlog of work to be done on important restoration, research and planning projects. And the sad truth is that until these broad fiscal disputes are solved, there is little chance that Congress will focus on important public land issues, such as designating and conserving some of our most sensitive wild lands.

Question: What can I do to help?

Answer: You can help by urging your member of Congress to end the government shutdown. Tell Congress that you want your national parks, refuges and monuments re-opened. Let them know you want to see all government agencies functioning once again so that other important work, like renewable energy development and energy safety monitoring can get back on track. 

Take action: Tell Congress to end the shut-down and re-open our public wildlands