Dam­age at na­tional parks may last

Trump has kept fa­cil­i­ties open dur­ing the shuttdown with lim­ited staffing

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Javier Pan­zar Los An­ge­les Times

When David Lam­from drove into Joshua Tree Na­tional Park re­cently dur­ing the first days of the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down, he was star­tled by the chaos.

He saw park vis­i­tors hik­ing off of marked trails and driv­ing their ve­hi­cles off of paved roads, tram­pling and run­ning over veg­e­ta­tion on the desert floor.

Lam­from, direc­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia desert and na­tional wildlife pro­grams for the Na­tional Parks Conservation As­so­ci­a­tion, was con­cerned about the de­struc­tion of the del­i­cate fun­gus, bac­te­ria and rock that make up the so-called bi­o­log­i­cal soil crust that plants rely on for growth.

“Deserts are re­ally unique sys­tems. Plant life is an­cient there,” he said. “The im­pacts be­ing caused could take hun­dreds of years to re­cover from.”

As the shut­down of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment drags into a third week, wor­ries about the long-term dam­age be­ing done to the na­tion’s parks and dis­rup­tions to wildlife, in­clud­ing bears, is grow­ing.

Diane Re­gas, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Trust for Pub­lic Land, a non­profit park ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, wrote a let­ter last week to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, call­ing for the im­me­di­ate clos­ing of ev­ery na­tional park in the coun­try for the du­ra­tion of the shut­down to pro­tect vis­i­tors and park re­sources.

“Al­low­ing ac­cess to na­tional parks with­out tak­ing care to stew­ard those re­sources is ir­re­spon­si­ble and could re­sult in ir­re­versible dam­age and loss,” she wrote.

Un­like the gov­ern­ment shut­down in 2013, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has kept na­tional parks open with lim­ited staff in place. But, as re­strooms and other ser­vices have be­come over­loaded, more and more camp­grounds are clos­ing at parks across Cal­i­for­nia.

The lat­est ex­am­ple is Death Val­ley Na­tional Park, where sev­eral camp­sites closed Fri­day be­cause of health and safety con­cerns over hu­man waste, trash, van­dal­ism and dam­age to park re­sources, the park’s chief of in­ter­pre­ta­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, Pa­trick Tay­lor, said in a news re­lease.

Re­ports con­tinue to trickle in from vol­un­teers about wine bot­tles left strewn about in Joshua Tree and hu­man waste pil­ing up on roads lead­ing into Yosemite.

In Texas’ Big Bend Na­tional Park, a hiker re­port­edly broke his leg and was car­ried out by fel­low vis­i­tors.

“It is a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween conservation and recre­ation,” said Steve Blu­men­shine, a pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy at Fresno State who spent time in Yosemite two weeks ago. “In a shut­down, we take that to ex­tremes.”

Re­gas said ad­vo­cat­ing the clos­ing of parks com­pletely, rather than just camp­grounds, is “a very un­usual stance” for her or­ga­ni­za­tion, which works to in­crease ac­cess to parks and has do­nated land to ex­pand them, in­clud­ing Yosemite Na­tional Park.

“But we are not tak­ing this lightly,” she said. “This is ur­gent.”

Whether to close an area of a park is up to each park’s su­per­in­ten­dent. He or she can bar vis­i­tors if re­sources “vul­ner­a­ble to de­struc­tion, loot­ing, or other dam­age” can­not be ad­e­quately pro­tected by the law en­force­ment of­fi­cers who re­main on duty dur­ing the shut­down, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice’s con­tin­gency plan for a lapse in fed­eral fund­ing.

Camp­grounds at Joshua Tree closed at noon Wed­nes­day, of­fi­cials said, cit­ing health and safety con­cerns over vault toi­lets that were near ca­pac­ity.

The wa­ter­less re­strooms, in which vis­i­tors can re­lieve them­selves into sealed buried con­tain­ers, had re­mained open.

But no work­ers are around to pump out the waste.

Se­quoia and Kings Canyon na­tional parks went a step fur­ther, clos­ing en­tirely to vis­i­tors last week.

Mean­while, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Christ­mas Day death of a man at Yosemite is be­ing de­layed by the shut­down, Na­tional Park Ser­vice spokesman An­drew Munoz said Fri­day.

Yosemite of­fi­cials re­ceived a 911 call re­port­ing a man with a head in­jury in the Sil­ver Apron area on the Merced River above Ne­vada Fall, and rangers ar­rived in less than an hour, Munoz said.

The man was re­moved from the wa­ter and re­ceived med­i­cal treat­ment, but he died from his in­juries. He was not in a re­stricted area.

“We aren’t re­leas­ing more de­tail be­cause the in­ci­dent re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is tak­ing longer than usual be­cause of the shut­down,” Munoz said in an email.

There also is a new wave of con­cern over an­other peren­nial is­sue at Yosemite — how hu­mans in­ter­act with bears.

The trash that vis­i­tors have left and is pil­ing up could at­tract wildlife to pop­u­lated ar­eas, in­creas­ing the risk of dan­ger­ous en­coun­ters.

Munoz said there were one or two bears ac­tive in the Up­per Pines Camp­ground in Yosemite this week. The bears did not get any food, but cam­pers re­ported bears push­ing on cars and trail­ers, he said.

MARIO TAMA/GETTY

Rock climbers stand Fri­day on top of a for­ma­tion at Joshua Tree Na­tional Park, which has re­mained open dur­ing the shut­down. Camp­grounds at the Cal­i­for­nia park have closed.

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