As the government shutdown drags into its second week, there are increasing risks of vandalism in the National Park System and possibly even poaching, according to past National Park Service personnel.
And in some parks, visitors are simply ignoring "closed" signs and heading off into the landscape. That was the case at Acadia National Park this past weekend, and one of the park's visitors needed to be hauled out to safety on a litter after injuring herself.
The woman was one of crowds of visitors who entered the park despite the closure signs and barricades. Many pedaled off down the Carriage Paths, while this 69-year-old Portland, Maine, visitor fell while hiking on Flying Mountain.
Ranger Ed Pontbriand, one of just four rangers on duty in Saturday, told the Bangor Daily News that trying to keep visitors out of Acadia was like "herding ants."
Out on the West Coast, meanwhile, vandals have hit Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, where they cut open locks to gates barring entry to the recreation area in California. Though seemingly innocuous, NRA officials were concerned that visitors unaware of the closure could find themselves deep in canyons where they could be trapped by wildfires. Southern California currently is at high risk of fires due to dry conditions and hurricane-force winds, according to Weather.com.
"October is notorious for California wildfires," says Weather.com meteorologist Jon Erdman. "The largest wildfires on record in the state was the Cedar Fire in San Diego County in October 2003, charring 273,000 acres, over 2800 structures, and claiming 14 lives."
Meanwhile, a Springdale, Utah, businessowner frustrated with the closure of Zion National Park organized an "Occupy Zion" protest to raise attention to the loss of business.
"Obviously, I’m not too happy about it," James Milligan, owner of Zion Outfitter, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "This shop is my livelihood here and I haven’t had a customer in a week. Rangers will get their backpay, but what will people in these communities get?"
Across the National Park System, the absence of rangers leave the parks targets for vandals, according to Alan O’Neill, who is retired now but was superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area during the last government shutdown, in 1995-96.
"In the past, when we didn’t have eyes and ears out there and volunteers and others, we experienced tremendous vandalism. We experienced gang assembly in some of the areas closest to Los Vegas," he recounted during a phone call Friday. "The vandalism just increased incredibly during those times. Sometimes we don’t think about that, but people are not happy. And angry people do strange things. We found sledge hammers (taken) to the bathroom toilets, and the mess that we had to clean up after that. That’s what you’ve got to expect, and I expect that’s going to happen this time."
Dennis Schramm, who was superintendent of Mojave Desert National Preserve during the last shutdown, agreed.
“In the Mojave, the biggest concern is in the backcountry where you don’t have control of every road coming into the preserve, and you don’t have enough eyes and ears out there," he said. "There are cultural resources, natural resources. We’ve had cactus poaching in the past, deer poaching, so there’s a number of things that can go on and you don’t have enough eyes out there to keep an eye on it."
While sportsmen's groups are concerned that the ongoing shutdown will imperil hunting seasons, there also are concerns that hunters on lands that are open and adjacent to national parks could stray into them, unknowingly or otherwise, and take park wildlife.
With park staffs reduced by furloughs, those units with elk, deer and other hunting prey lack the resources to adequately patrol boundaries during hunting season. While they do have boundary patrols occuring, those resources have been diminished by furoughs, one park ranger told the Traveler.