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Around The Parks: Vandals, Occupiers And Cyclists


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

"October is notorious for California wildfires," says 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."

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Photo by David Graves, NPCA.

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."

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Photo by Tim Stevens, NPCA.

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.



A Fairfax County Park, Langley Fork, sits on the same parcel of federal land that Claude Moore does and it is also closed. In fact, Claude Moore is adjacent to this park. Fairfax Parks and Recreation put a note on their website indicating that Langley Fork and its parking were closed as the NPS Special Use Permit was suspended. Langley Fork, unlike Claude Moore, is accessible from the Georgetown Pike(a VDOT road). The County doesn't seem to be protesting this closure.

For agenices in the "discretionary budget," like the National Park Service, Congress must appropriate money for them to have legal authority to spend. There is general permission, by law, for these agencies to maintain "essential services," even without an appropriation.

For the National Park Service, the only truly essential services are protection of resources (the physical parks themselves) and people (visistors, volunteers, and staff). Lots of other programs and services are necessary to run parks properly and assure visitors can enjoy them to the fullest, but those are not "essential."

Therefore, wihtout a budget, NPS closes parks, including so-called "open-air" memorials like the World War II Memorial in DC. In normal times, these memorials have law enforcement patrols to limit crime, including vandalism; they have litter control and trash removal; they have information personnel who can explain the purpose of the site and how and why it was built.

When parks are closed, NPS can minimize its spending by sending all non-essential personnel home and keeping only the staffing required to provide minimum protection to park staff and those people who are permitted in the park.

Privately run facilities within parks, like the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Claud Moore Farm on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, are government property and can only be reached by crossing government property. Emergency services for these sites are provided by NPS. Having them operating does require more NPS staffing, even if the site itself is privately managed.

As a separate issue, demonstrations like today's event on the National Mall were authorized under negotiated permit agreements long before the actual event. When the permit was issued, NPS could not have known it would be closed today. Generally, these permits must be issued to individuals and organizations that are exercising their constitutional freedom of assembly to address Congress -- it's the same right that had the courts requiring NPS to provide larger and more visible demonstration spaces during Inaugural parades for newly installed Presidents of the US. Ther permittees are still required to provide portable restrooms, trash collection and other services related to their demonstrations.

Shutdown of Government Activities versus Closure of Public Lands

A nonpartisan FYI from a former ranger trying to understand this madness:

And forgive me if this stuff is really boring. Indeed I believe that is part of the problem. There is so much complicated legal, bureaucratic verbage that I fear the actual reality of how the NPS should respond to a shutdown is being misinterpreted by everyone, including agency leadership as well as myself.

1. The "shutdown" procedures as outlined by the OMB memo instructs agencies they can only allow "activies" under a shutdown that are in accordance with the Antideficiency Act of 1870. In this case "activities" refers to actions of government employees/agencies that obligate expediture...not activities of private US citzens on government lands.

2. The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal employees from "making obligations and expeditures" and from "volunteering" during a government shutdown. (This is why NPS employees can not volunteer during the shutdown, or at least not without violating this act)

3. The Antideficiency Act allows for agencies to employee services to respond to emergency and to protect property. (This is why most parks are allowed to have the same number of law enforcement and emergency response rangers on duty during the shutdown as they do during normal times. In many cases they have more LE rangers on duty than normal because OMB requires that all vacation leave, training, and travel is canceled during a shutdown. Also many maintenance personnel remain on duty under the "protect property" function.)

4. The Antidficiency Act was written in 1870 before the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and to my best knowledge has not been amended to address the issue of visitation by the public to a national park during the event of a shutdown.

5. OMB instructed the NPS (and other federal agencies) to perform an "orderly shutdown."

6. What constitutes a "shutdown" was left to the interpretation of agency leaders and NPS leaders appear to have interpreted the word "shutdown" to mean closure of public access to all national park facilities and lands.

7. The Antidfeciency Act states that activities of "obligation of expediture" that are prohibited during a shutdown only applies to government activities outside those that ensure "the safety of human life and protection of property."

8. No federal employee has ever been prosecuted for violating the Antideficiency Act. And, I'm not lawyer, but I think it reasonable to believe that a federal employee who allows the public access to NPS wilderness or outdoor areas would not be in violation of the Antideficiency Act.

The Antideficiency Act did force the NPS to close government buildings and all non essential activies such as interpretation, research, building projects, permit issuing and the like but the act did not force Superintendents to close access to all outdoor areas. (Agencies are allowed to staff to protect human life/safety and protect property so the concern of crime and public harm (in the short term) due to staffing levels is an overstated worry.) Nor was the agency forced to stop maintaining public restrooms, sewage treatment, or trash removal. (This falls under protection of property and also under human safety so these "activities" would be easy to justify.)

I propose that the DOI/NPS leadership should have allowed park Superintendents the discretion on how to conduct an "orderly shutdown" as instructed by the OMB and that each Superintendent should have closed roads, trails, and outdoor areas only "as necessary" instead of "wherever possible" as the NPS Shutdown Plan ordered.

Any additional insights into the actual, factual, legal limitations placed on NPS leadership by the OMB during this shutdown would be greatly appreciated.

andrea lankford




Yikes. I think every state legislature has to have at least one "colorful" character.

I think tomorrow might be a bad PR day for NPS with that immigration rally controversy. Also, the Claude Moore Farm group is going to having a "Freedom from Tyranny" rally in front of Interior HQ.[url=]

Several recent articles have pointed out that those who currently have health insurance (through their jobs, private insurance or Medicare) won't have to make any changes under the ACA unless they want to do so.

And hundreds of articles have shown where that isn't true. But that is a different issue than Congressional coverage.

House Republicans asked that Congress be under the same rules as everyone else. If they already are - as you suggest - it would not be an issue. Dems could just say fine. They didn't. If they aren't under the same rules, then why would it be wrong to ask that they are?

"...ask that Congress live by the Obamacare rules the public has to observe."

I'm not disagreeing with that idea, but I'm wondering if it's more soundbite than substance. Several recent articles have pointed out that those who currently have health insurance (through their jobs, private insurance or Medicare) won't have to make any changes under the ACA unless they want to do so. That would seem to apply to Congresspersons, so I'm not clear on which "rules that the public has to observe" need to be applied to Congress.

Now, if the idea is that Congress should be limited to the same health care plan as any other federal employee, including the guy who cuts the grass on the National Mall and the one who cleans the bathrooms in the Capitol, I absolutely agree with that!

Brenda Barton, an Arizona state representative, today compared the President to Hitler. It looks as if things are really spinning out of control. We need to get this issue resolved quickly. Here is part of her quote. “Someone is paying the National Park Service thugs overtime for their efforts to carry out the order of De Fuhrer… where are our Constitutional Sheriffs who can revoke the Park Service Rangers authority to arrest??? Do we have any Sheriffs with a pair?” she wrote.


Next weeks planned actions for Mt Rushmore...

compliments of Powerline

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