I know I promised this post would be about the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park, but something far more important came up last week that can not go undiscussed. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are well aware of our love affair with our country’s National Parks system. We aren’t the only ones– the National Parks belong to all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. The National Parks are our birthright. Whether you are gazing into the depths of the Grand Canyon or locking eyes with Lady Liberty, you can’t help but fall silent in awe of the natural beauty and historical significance of these places. They must be protected.
The National Parks system isn’t made up of just pretty canyons and large forests, with a ranger stationed here and there to tell you about how erosion changed the landscape 120,000 years ago. There are pristine landscapes, buildings of historical significance, battlefields, islands with large populations of endemic species, areas of great archeological significance, places featuring botanic rarities, sculptures honoring war heroes, and statues representing liberty, inclusion, and the American spirit that runs through us all. Park Rangers are among the most visible folks who help manage and run the parks, but according to the National Parks Website, there are about 22,000 permanent, temporary and seasonal employees that are the lifeblood of the Parks system. There are archeologists, geologists, botanists, vehicle maintenance workers, educators, irrigators, trails workers, lifeguards, cartographers, engineers, public safety dispatchers, tram drivers, carpenters, safety and occupational health specialists, fisheries biologists, paramedics, firefighters, and the list goes on and on. It takes all these people and more to run the parks, protect the landscape, and ensure the safety and enjoyment of all who visit. And they have been told this week that there will be an indefinite hiring freeze.
Here are the conditions of the freeze applied to all federal organizations (except the military):
Read more on this website.
Can you imagine the disastrous effects of this order? The National Parks are already operating with a deficiency of 1,731 positions. If no one quit or retired or went on leave right now, we’d be fine. But with over 22,000 employees it’s not likely that the parks won’t be in a desperate position within the next few days or weeks. Think about all the things that need to be done in order to maintain a National Park. The litter will pile up without enough field staff. Field trips will be cancelled without enough educators. Visitor center hours will be reduced without enough interpreters. Beaches won’t be as safe without enough lifeguards. Patrol vehicles won’t be able to make the rounds without enough law enforcers or mechanics to keep them running. Emergency response times will be slower without enough paramedics or people to dispatch them. And this doesn’t even include the scientific, biological, geological, and historic research that goes into learning about where our parks came from, understanding how they fit into our landscape today, and decisions that go into ensuring they will be there for future generations to enjoy.
And this is just the National Parks we’re talking about. This mandate also affects the rest of the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Trails System, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the National Wildlife Refuge System, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. I’m sure I missing more. Just imagine what is going to happen to these already underfunded agencies. Imagine what is going to happen to our land. Imagine what is going to happen to our country. If anything represents our country, it’s our National Parks. It’s Yosemite. It’s the Grand Canyon. It’s the Statue of Liberty. Protecting these lands and monuments should be an extremely high priority. If it’s not, we will pay an extremely high cost.
Even more disturbing than a hiring freeze is the outrageous shut down of the National Park social media accounts. In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news lately, here’s a quick recap of what happened: After the inauguration, the National Park Service tweeted a photo comparing the crowd size of Trump’s inauguration to Obama’s. Additionally, the Badlands National Park twitter account posted several unrelated tweets containing climate change facts. Both sets of tweets were deleted fairly immediately, despite only saying and showing true statements objectively, and despite the Badlands tweets having nothing to do with politics or policy. Whether or not you believe the inauguration photo was appropriate, a simple retraction and/or apology would have done the trick. Silencing them further may or may not be over kill, I’ll let you decide on that one. But take a look at the tweets from the Badlands National Park below, and tell me: what on earth is wrong with a scientifically based organization tweeting scientifically proven facts?
These tweets were deleted, the account was suspended, and an apology was posted that stated their account had been “compromised” by someone with unauthorized access. (The account now appears to be back online.) I checked out the Badlands twitter account myself and found many climate change posts dated before the inauguration. These ones are still up, as well as many more dated before the 20th:
Hmmm, what’s changed in the last week? Why are scientists and researchers now under attack? Why are they being censored by the new administration when it was totally okay before? Where is the line for what they’re going to be censored for in the future? According to this Washington Post article, the Endangered Species Act is next on the chopping block. Yes, I said the ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT. Will Rocky Mountain National Park be censored for tweeting a picture of a Boreal Toad? Will Colorado Parks & Wildlife, who manages both game and non game species in my state, be censored for talking about Black Footed Ferrets in a factual manor? (CPW is a state run organization but they are partially funded by federal excise tax dollars.) It’s a slippery slope, and this is just the beginning.
The time to stand up for our National Parks and for our sacred lands and the animals that grace them is now. Not after they suffer irreparable damage, but now. We are custodians of the land we inherited from our parents and will turn over to our children and our children’s children. It’s not someone else’s job to protect it, it’s ours. It’s not someone else’s job to stand up for it, it’s ours. It’s not someone else’s problem, it’s our problem. The National Parks don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, it just matters that you do your duty and protect this great country. Protect our National Parks and monuments.
HOW TO HELP:
Visit a park in person and thank every single employee you see working there. Click here to find a park near you.
To make a donation, click here. (We just donated $100.)
To volunteer at a National Park, click here.
Click on these links to follow the National Parks on social media: Follow the National Parks on Twitter, National Park Service on Facebook, Badlands National Parks on Twitter, the unofficial National Parks feed that went rogue (i.e. “The Resistance”) on Twitter.
Don’t just take my word for it… Google more about how the hiring freeze will devastate the National Parks System. Click here for quick results.
To find other ways to be involved with the National Parks, click here.
How do you think this is going to play out? Do you have more ideas for direct action? What are you doing to help? Let us know in the comments section below.