Visitors cross the Visitor's Park car park after a closed road due to the closure of Arches National Park, Utah, on January 9, 2019. (George Frey / Reuters)
No, our national parks have not descended into squalid and wasteful poverty in the last three weeks.
Three weeks into the government shutdown, you have no doubt heard that our national parks have become dangerous, dump-filled, uncultivated lands. "National parks are becoming wild west – densely populated and barely monitored" Lily a Washington Post big title. "The national parks are public lands of the United States, but these are the garbage cans of the United States at the moment," m said National Geographic.
Our national parks are effectively at a standstill, and some face tremendous pressures as they try to stay open with limited resources while the closure persists. But it is not exactly the post-apocalyptic dystopias that the media seems to think. And, under the Trump administration's new stop directives, our parks have been legitimately spared from being used as pawns in Washington's partisan budget battles as in the past.
Under a plan of urgency created by the administration, park officials have the right to keep the sites accessible to visitors during closure with a skeletal staff, instead of being forced to close them, as was the case when of the 2013 government closure presided over by President Obama. This means that many important activities for visitors and park operations – Yellowstone snowshoe tours organized by private dealers and guided tours of the Gettysburg Battlefield – can continue to generate economic benefits for communities. surrounding. This week, the National Parks Service also ad he will start using unspent revenue from visitor fees to reinforce the activities of some parks.
These new plans are drawing criticism into the familiar vein of all that Trump does must be bad. Theresa Pierno of the National Parks Conservation Association criticized the administration's decision to keep the parks open, l & # 39; call "Irrealistic and dangerous", even though the NPCA has repeatedly called for the creation of parks to be reopened at the end of 2013. The representative of the country, Raúl Grijalva, new democratic president of the committee of natural resources of the House, is committed to: hold hearings on the administration's decision to support park activities with royalty revenues.
This criticism is mainly related to a partisanship disguised as outrageous parks. First, the Trump administration's response plan does not provide for parks to remain open regardless of the consequences. Instead, it gives the park superintendents the ability to keep the areas open, as well as allowing private dealerships to operate in the parks they manage. This is quite different from the Obama administration's closure plan, which even included private operations in parks. who do not rely on closure of congressional appropriations.
The Trump administration's approach is sound. Why unnecessarily ruin visitors' projects or jeopardize the millions of dollars in revenue that local communities receive from park visits? If visits begin to pose significant health or safety concerns, the emergency plan gives park superintendents the option of close zones or completely close the parks, as some have already done.
In addition, the Administration Plan gives local managers the discretion to enter into innovative funding arrangements to keep the parks operating. Since the beginning of the judgment, the Park Service has signed more than 40 agreements with dealers, non-profit organizations and state governments to provide visitor services such as garbage removal and toilet cleaning. The Obama administration's closure plan for 2013 did not allow such partnerships with private or non-profit partners.
Yet, some seem to want to describe Trump's approach as illogical and dangerous, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands that are not national parks, such as those managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management open during the stops and are largely unmonitored daily, even when the government is in office. Several media have published alarming reports that three park visitors have died in accidents since the start of the closure. But, according to the National Parks Service, six people die each week in the park system on average, and that's when the government is fully operational.
The truth is that, apart from some viral images of overflowing garbage cans and imprudent acts of vandalism in Joshua Tree National Park, many parks are doing well as part of the government's closure plan. Like NPR reported last weekprivate companies pay $ 7,500 a day to maintain the snow-covered roads and clean the bathrooms in Yellowstone. Dealers, guide services and local non-profit organizations are keen to have a great experience for park visitors – many of whom have booked winter tours months in advance. It is therefore logical that they are ready to intervene even at home. fresh.
Some, including NPCA, would apparently prefer that these good faith efforts not be tolerated in the first place. "Nothing can replace the National Park Service staff and its expertise, and it is not wise to put the public or the resources of our park at risk by providing half-measures to keep them open," m said Pierno, who also criticized the Administration's plan to allow the parks to use their own royalty revenues to reopen certain sites.
The Trump administration is right to find innovative ways to keep national parks open and give park officials more flexibility to decide what is best, instead of imposing unnecessary closures. More importantly, park advocates should applaud efforts to make our parks more self-reliant and less dependent on the vagaries of political funding decisions or presidential tantrums. In this way, parks would not have to become props in closed circuses that are becoming more and more common.
Make no mistake: none of this means that the parks do not need congressional support, or that the closure of the government is somehow justified. It is simply a matter of pointing out that finding ways to depoliticize the operation and management of our park system is a good thing. Unfortunately, the outrageous indignation of the NPCA and others once again proves that some will never miss an opportunity to play politics, even with something as beloved as US national parks.