What a government shutdown could mean for national parks

Sep 28, 2023

As a government shutdown looms, attention is turning to what will happen to national parks in the absence of government funding. Every aspect of park operations, from interpretive programs and search and rescue to maintenance and cleaning, hinges on federal employees being paid to do their jobs.

Last week, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso urged the Interior Department to keep parks open, as it did during the 2018-2019 shutdown. During that shutdown, the Trump administration opted to keep parks open with a minimal number of essential employees. This decision resulted in overflowing trash and toilets, stolen historical artifacts, damaged ecosystems, and at least one death. The funding approach taken by the Trump administration during this time, using fees from the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), was later deemed illegal by the Government Accountability Office.

Closing parks, as required by law when Congress defunds the government, comes with economic consequences. National parks play a significant role in the U.S. economy, contributing $50.3 billion and supporting 378,400 jobs this year. Communities near these parks rely heavily on tourism, and a shutdown can have severe economic ramifications. When the Obama administration closed parks during the 2013 shutdown, there was an estimated loss of $414 million in economic activity.

An alternative solution is for states to fund national parks during a shutdown, and some states are already proposing plans. In Arizona, Governor Katie Hobbs announced a plan to use lottery funds to keep Grand Canyon National Park open if the government shuts down. Utah lawmakers also say they intend to keep national parks open—though their plan involves using FLREA funds—and Governor Spencer Cox has requested Congress reimburse the state for the cost of operating national parks during both this shutdown and the 2013 shutdown.

Quick hits

What a government shutdown could mean for national parks

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Quote of the day

Federal agencies like [the National Park Service] have an important job to do, and they show up and do it for the American people every day. The Park Service is more visible than others, but they’re all important. I hope the members of Congress will show up and do their job too.”

—Jon Jarvis, former director of the National Park Service, Outside

Picture This

fox climbing tree


While slightly smaller than its relative the red fox, don’t be fooled by the size of the gray fox. This mischievous canine has the special ability to climb trees. In fact, it’s the only species of canine in North America that can climb trees thanks to rotating forearms and semi-retractable claws. They climb trees to escape predators, find food, or take a snooze. As an omnivore, their diet varies from fruit to nuts, to insects and small animals. However, they fall prey to mountain lions, bobcats, owls, and hawks.

These mammals are most active at night but may be seen in the early morning and evening too. Don’t be discouraged though if you don’t see one. Afterall, they have a reputation of being clever, curious, and sneaky. As you explore the park, look for signs of them. Scat is most seen on trails and oftentimes with seeds from juniper trees or fruit from cacti. racks are another feature to look for while you’re out hiking. Remember to always keep your distance, keep your eyes on the road, and respect all wildlife.

Feature photo: Closed national park during the 2013 government shutdown. daveynin/flickr