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What's Next for Yosemite & National Parks?

Pondering the future of national parksWe've all heard the news by now: Yosemite National Park, on its 123rd birthday, was closed indefinitely due to the government shutdown. But as the shutdown continues, what will come of the rest of the country's 401 national parks, monuments, and federally managed sites? Here's the skinny on what will change, what will remain the same, and what you can do to let your voice be heard. 

Tourists vanish. Across the nation, national parks welcome an estimated 750,000 tourists a day. And in Yosemite, tourists coming from around the world to witness Half Dome and El Capitan must first pass through gateway communities like Mariposa, Oakhurst, Mammoth, and Sonora, to name a few. These small towns, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, require a steady flow of tourists, which fuel 5,700 private-sector jobs and generate a $360-million-a-year industry. On any given day, the park hosts 15,000 tourists, and October is one of Yosemite's most popular months for weddings. A stoppage in tourist flow could be catastrophic to small businesses. 

Many of these small communities have already seen reduced numbers of tourists due to the Rim Fire that decimated the nearby Stanislaus Forest. The shuttering of Yosemite only compounds the financial and economic problems faced by these small towns — and other towns across the country that depend on tourists traveling to National Parks. 

Oil drilling continues.  Parks across the country may be closed to backpackers, climbers, sight-seers, and naturalists, but according to Climate Progress, oil and gas drilling will continue on public land, unchanged and — now that the EPA is vastly reduced — unchecked. Over ninety percent of the EPA's 16,204 employees will be furloughed as a result of the shutdown, severely limiting the scope of the agency's protection power.

Ongoing research grinds to a halt.  Scientific research, restoration projects, and wilderness programs will be put on pause indefinitely in parks nationwide. Teams and independent researchers from universities like UC Merced and Berkeley will lose access to project sites.

Kate Wilkin, a National Parks Climate Change Fellow, is one such researcher, whose Ph.D. candidacy hinges on her research in Yosemite's mixed-confer zone. "The government shutdown postponed or canceled projects which I had spent three months preparing to complete," says Wilkin. One of the postponed projects included leading a team of Berkeley undergraduates to retrieve climate sensors planted a year before. "It is a logistical nightmare trying to reschedule fieldwork, especially with an uncertain time line."  

Furloughs, furloughs, furloughs.  Among the 800,000 federally employed workers to face furloughs, national park staff will be placed on hold indefinitely. Limited staff from the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Park Police, and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Fund, and a small list of other departments will remain in action — while 87 percent of park staff nationwide will be out of work until the U.S. government resumes again. Yosemite National Park alone employs 838 employees; however, only 169 employees will be able to return to their posts. 

What we can do: If you want our parks to not only stay open, but also remain protected the way John Muir envisioned back in 1892, then call, email, or write to your representative today and let your voice be heard.  


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Scott Donahue is an intern at Sierra. He was a freshman in Mr. Hancock's English class when he first read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Now, he's currently working on a graduate thesis composed of travel essays. Topics include substitute teaching kindergartners in Nepal, drinking rice beer with a Tibetan porter, and running a marathon from Everest Base Camp.

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