If there's one thing to be learned from national park and public land closures during the government shutdown, it's that Americans adore their public lands and do not take kindly to being shut out. Because of that fact, these lands are a critical part of our economy. So now that our public lands have re-opened, we need to make sure that they're properly funded.
Open but underfunded
We hope you'll enjoy this photographic tribute, but please keep in mind that the funding battles for our public lands aren't over. Our park, refuge and forest systems remain severely underfunded by mandatory sequestration budget cuts that happened in Congress earlier this year. Another round of cuts must be averted before January in order for our public lands to receive the funding they must have to operate.
The Wilderness Society is working with Congress to ensure our public lands are funded adequately and that more of our unspoiled lands are permanently protected from development and oil and gas drilling.
Photo gallery: A glimpse at our public lands - these places need funding
Yosemite National Park, California
Photo by the Interior Department
The shutdown showed how much Americans and international visitors love our national parks and public lands. In October, the country was outraged when hundreds of thousands of visitors were locked out from the parks during the government shutdown, including those who had come from far afield to fulfill dream vacations. Yet, despite the importance of these lands, Congress has severely underfunded parks through sequestration cuts. Worse still is that while tourists were locked out from national parks, Congress was actually considering several bad bills that would have sold off federal wildlands to states for drilling and mining purposes. One bill that would have opened Yosemite to logging. These bills will continue to be considered by Congress.
Katmai National Park, Alaska
Photo by Thor_Mark, flickr
During the government shutdown, staff furloughs prevented park and refuge staff from monitoring and protecting wildlife from illegal hunting and other threats. But these staff were already underfunded by mandatory budget cuts made by Congress earlier in 2013. Without proper funding levels going forward, work to protect wildlife cannot be done at its full capacity. This will make wildlife more vulnerable to poaching, illegal trade, harassment and other threats.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Photo by Steven Bratman
Gateway communities benefit greatly from tourism to public lands. Case in point: Businesses throughout America's gateway communities were pushed to the edge of bankruptcy during the government shutdown in October. The gateway town of Estes Park at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park was hit by a double blow when the park within weeks of historic floods that washed out the main canyon roads to the town. Congress must realize that parks and public lands are a huge contributor to that national economy and to local gateway economies. Outdoor recreation contributes $646 billion to the economy per year. Without proper funding to keep park rangers, education programs and campground staffed, we risk damaging some of these revenues.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Photo by Cosmic Smudge, flickr
Communities near national parks are estimated to have lost $76 million in tourism spending every single day of the shutdown, equaling more than 1.2 billion for the entire shutdown. Congress should see this as a sign that parks and public lands are critical to the economies of local communities and restore full funding to our lands programs.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Photo by Devin Westhaus, flickr
Overseas tourists help keep the economy of towns near national parks afloat. Yet during the 16-day shutdown, hundreds of thousands of tourists had to change their plans to visit national parks and monuments. The National Park Service lost $450,000 in entrance fees per day during the shutdown.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Photo by Joey BLS Photography
Funding from Congress helps keep park rangers, visitor centers and other facilities open at our national parks. This funding is well worth it when you consider that our parks contribute greatly to our economy. Case in point: During the government shutdown, twelve of the busiest national parks, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park lost $750 million in visitor dollars in just in the first ten days of the shutdown. This is only a fraction of what visitors spend in nearby communities on their way to and from the parks.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Photo by The City Project
Businesses near Joshua Tree National Park reported income to be down 60 to 70 percent during the shutdown. In other towns, like White's Town, N.M., near Carslad Caverns, town officials said business had virtually disappeared.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Photo by Park Ranger, flickr
Zion Wilderness, Zion National Park, Utah
Photo by Terra Trekking, flickr
Local communities were so desperate to recover lost tourism that seven states, including Utah, spent more than 2 million in state funds to reopen their national parks on day 11 of the shutdown. Utah spent almost $1 million to open Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks as well as Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon and Cedar Breaks national monuments for six days.
Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona
Photo by Cameron Grant, flickr
What's ahead for national parks
National park employees are critical to the health of our parks. Not only do they conduct important educational and research programs, they also help prevent illegal dumping, poach of wildlife and destruction or vandalism of cultural artifacts. As evidenced by the case of a man who caught caught digging up civil war artifacts from a national historic park, these staff are essential for protecting the parks. Unfortunately, even before the shutdown, our parks were severely underfunded by mandatory budget cuts in Congress, undercutting the Park Service's ability to perform these jobs. Over the summer, parks were already closing visitor centers early, closing down campgrounds, plowing roads less and cutting law enforcement hours. If Congress does not restore full funding to the national parks, these services will continue to diminish, and Americans will have less access to visitor centers, campgrounds and educational programs. Want to know more? Get an in-depth break-down of the damage sequester cuts will do to wildlands.
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
Photo by henrikj, flickr
The outdoor recreation economy generates almost $700 billion annually in economic activity; every day that our public lands remained closed to visitors, our economy lost $2 billion.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
Photo by Jonohey
Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado
Photo by ChuckCars, flickr
BLM lands are rich with cultural and historic artifiacts. Funding from Congress helps ensure those cultural gems are protected from vandals.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Photo by uıɐɾ ʞ ʇɐɯɐs
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico
Photo by BLM New Mexico
BLM lands alone contribute more than $7 billion to local communities annually.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
Photo by Jennoit, flickr
Devils Postpile National Monument, California (Rainbow Falls)
Photo by abmatic, flickr
What's ahead for for national monuments
National wildlife refuges
William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon
Photo by USFWS
When wildlife staff are present, wildlife can be monitored and protected from threats like poaching and illegal trade. Without full funding and adequate staff and research programs, the wildlife that find solace in our refuges are more vulnerable. Less funding could also mean decreased visitor hours or fewer facilities being open.
Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, Montana
Photo by Nathan Jongewaard, flickr
Without adequate staff at wildlife refuges, big game animals like mule deer are more vulnerable to poaching. Transporting illegally killed animals from wildlife refuges can carry stiff fines, but who will know such crimes are taking place if we don't fund the refuges fully?
Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
Photo by USFWS
If Congress does not restore full funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, work to prevent illegal animal trade (of both live animals and animal products) will be undermined through reductions in wildlife inspectors and forensic wildlife experts.
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts
Photo by USFWS
What's ahead for wildlife refuges
During the government shutdown, wildlife refuges closed their gates and staff were furloughed. Local businesses in communities near National Wildlife Refuges lost $4.5 million in sales every day of the shutdown. That amounts to $72 million for the duration of the shutdown. While some Americans wondered if the lack of visitors was a good break for wildlife, the reality is that furloughs prevent refuge staff from monitoring and protecting wildlife from poaching and other threats. Furloughs and decreased funding also stall work to list imperiled species under the endangered species act. Without adequate staff at wildlife refuges, wildlife will be more vulnerable to poaching and threats from climate change, while efforts to prevent illegal trade of animals will be undercut.
Sequoia National Forest, California
Photo by Snowpeak,
While the public could still visit some national forest areas during the shutdown, all facilities were closed and educational programs cancelled.
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada
Photo by USDA
Tongass National Forest, Alaska
Photo by USFWS
What's ahead for national forests
For the Forest Service, fire crews and fire mitigation efforts were severely limited by the shutdown, putting national forest and communities at risk. Forest restoration and conservation projects were also stalled. But budget cuts had already forced the Forest Service to place its focus on fighting forest fires as opposed to preventing or mitigating them. Already the U.S. Forest Service has reduced its force by 500 firefighters and 50 fire engines in an attempt to save the $50 million mandated by the sequester. If the sequester continues, communities will be at greater risk.
Top photo: Grand Canyon at Bright Angel Trail, NPS.