Government Shutdown and the Real Problems of Closing the National Parks

If you’ve been following news stories about the government shutdown in the U.S., probably the single most common effect cited has been the closure of national parks, rather than say, the National Institute of Health having to turn away cancer patients wanting to participate in new clinical trials, or the schools trying to operate without knowing when they will start to receive Head Start funding again, or some of the “essential” federal employees still going to work every day, without being paid (they’ll most likely get retroactively paid once this crisis is ended, but for people without a lot of savings to fall back on, that doesn’t help them now.)

At first the focus on national parks in the headlines can seem superficial, like it is ignoring the bigger problems the shutdown is causing. And it definitely seems hypocritical that Republicans are so outraged about park closures, since 1. They caused the shutdown and 2. They have been underfunding the National Park Service for decades. And tried to use approval of the intensely controversial Keystone XL pipeline as a bargaining chip leading up to the government shutdown.

If you’re a runner, you may have seen the article about a man who went for a run in a national park and received a citation and fine, which he is challenging in court.

But good news! Some people are still allowed in national parks. Specifically, the logging, mining, and oil drilling industries.

While that might be partially due to the challenges of preventing corporations from continuing their extraction activities (they have contracts with the government for use of the land, so any attempt to stop them would likely lead to a lawsuit, and with 81% of NPS employees furloughed, the remaining 19% would be hard-pressed to stop these activities,) it is nonetheless a further indication of how our government has become more invested in the interests of the wealthy few who profit from such activities than the citizens who by right should sort of own that public land.

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