Park Staff Ordered to Violate Laws and Stand Aside as People Trashed Parks During Shutdown

Rangers describe the despair of watching national parks sustain preventable long-term damage, as well as the terrible effects the historic standoff has had on morale. The partial government shutdown is over, but some of the damage national parks sustained during the 35-day standoff will last long into the future.

During the shutdown, the Trump administration directed National Park Service staff to keep most parks open to visitors despite the agency having only a skeleton crew of “essential staff” on duty to protect them. This decision, which violates at least four federal laws, led to alarming reports of illegal activity and destruction across the country. During the shutdown, park visitors killed trees, harrassed wildlife, drove off-road vehicles over sensitive ecosystems, vandalized buildings, destroyed historic artifacts and dumped tons of trash on some of America’s most beloved lands, among other crimes.

Now, the former chief ranger at one landmark park is willing to go on record confirming what NPCA staff have feared — that rangers tried to take measures to protect national parks but were ordered to leave them largely unprotected.

Waste management problems quickly led to wildlife management problems, as the enormous quantities of trash throughout the parks attracted animals such as coyotes, bobcats, bears and foxes to populated areas of parks. As park wildlife drew nearer to visitors, associating them with food, people began feeding trash directly to the animals, further habituating them to humans. When animals learn to approach people, it can lead to aggressive behaviors and fatal conflicts for both.

Watching the abuse of park resources, not being able to proactively protect the park, concealing problems from the public, and living indefinitely without pay took a serious toll on park ranger morale.

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