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10/11/2013

The Government Shutdown and Public Lands: For the People...?

A closed Grand Canyon National Park trail
Grand Canyon National Park is closed. Photo by Blayne Brown.

"-- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Sound familiar? This is the last sentence of one of the greatest speeches in history --- Lincoln's Gettysburg Address -- which next month marks its 150th anniversary. Sadly, today Gettysburg National Park, along with hundreds of other national parks, monuments, and forests, is closed to the public. Hundreds of national wildlife refuges, closed. Opportunities for the public to comment on important conservation issues, such as the proposed removal of wolves from the endangered species list, dirty fuels projects on public lands, and proposed timber sales, have been suspended. Government websites that provide transparency and accountability have been locked down. Looks like those we elected to run our government have forgotten that they are in office as public servants...to ensure government is...for the people!

October is typically one of the greatest times for Americans to experience nature on our federal lands. From wildlife viewing, to hunting, fishing and hiking, the dreams of many families to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of our federal public lands have been taken away from them this fall. I recently spoke with two of the many people currently feeling the effects of the government shutdown.
Grand Canyon North Rim_Sandy Bahr
Photo by Sandy Bahr.

One of them was Ron, a college professor in Virginia who had made plans to join his son's church group in Arizona to hike over 21 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Ron spent months training for such an arduous yet rewarding journey, but now the Grand Canyon is closed, putting an end to his plans. Ron is disappointed and dismayed by the partisan bickering that now holds our public lands hostage. Ron also expressed concern for the local outfitting business in Arizona that was to support the group of 50 hikers. October is one of the biggest months for that company, and the closure of the Grand Canyon is a major hit to their livelihood.
Grand Tetons_Juan Martinez
Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Juan Martinez.

I also chatted with Doug, manager of the Angler's Inn in Jackson, Wyoming, next to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. What normally is a busy time for him and other hotel owners has been replaced by scores of empty rooms. He told me stories of international travelers from Asia and Europe who planned for years to see Yellowstone, arriving only to find the national park closed and our country's political system in shambles. How embarrassing for us as Americans! At this point, the 2013 season is over, with a number of hotels and businesses closing shop for the winter.

Ultimately, our elected officials are still accountable to all of us. Please join me in reminding them that they have a responsibility to all of us to make sure our national treasures are opened up once again for all of us to explore and enjoy. And that means fully funding the government, not continuing to pursue ill-conceived piecemeal funding approaches put forward by the House Republican leadership. A fully open, fully functioning government is needed to open and protect all of our nation's public lands.

-- Dan Chu, Director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign.


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