Off-Roading, Chopped Joshua Trees, Overflowing Toilets: Our National Parks During a Shutdown

Yves here. I’m running this piece because the destruction of national parks during the shutdown is strong evidence of the decay in social capital. While history shows again and again that old farts bemoan the decline in morays of the young, it’s still disturbing to see large groups of people take advantage of a lack of supervision at national parks to trash them. If they can’t show some consideration in a context like this, how can we expect citizens to pull together when the Jackpot comes?

I remember watching the 2011 Steven Soderberg movie Contagion and finding it to be far too optimistic about how the public would react to a pandemic. Contagion has the US being put under quarantine for six months to prevent the spread of a deadly, high communicable disease. There’s no consideration whatsoever about how people are supposed to support themselves, as in pay their mortgage/rent, electricity and other bills, or how the many that need prescription drugs are supposed to get them (as in how are they to be produced and distributed if everyone but emergency workers are to stay at home). In other words, it was completely unrealistic about the ongoing human effort needed to provision society and clean up its garbage.

While the movie did show some signs of social breakdown, like looting, it also portrayed the government as effective in maintaining a great deal of order, like closing state borders. But it also depicted people lining up to get food rations and only some scuffles breaking out.

The US simply does not have remotely enough social cohesiveness to handle a six month quarantine and then a relaxation of it, including rationing of the vaccine as limited supplies were distributed. This country is full of guns. You’d see too many people doing as they saw fit in a time of breakdown. And that’s before questioning whether our government, which has significant outsourced activities, would have the managerial ability and operational capacity to respond effectively to a crisis of this order.

If Brexit crashes out at the end of March or after an extension, we’ll get a picture of how well governments cope with national emergencies after decades of neoliberalism and demonization of public service.

By Annelise McGough. Originally published at Grist

Ever wanted to cut down an iconic Joshua tree in order to create space for some off-roading? No? Well, we thank you. But during the government shutdown, some fine folks did just that.

National parks are filling with garbage, and not just the kind that comes in trash bags. Since the government shut down 20 days ago, Joshua Tree, which is about the size of Delaware and located two hours east of Los Angeles, has been forced to reduce its number of rangers from 100 to only eight. The lack of staff is making it difficult to keep up with the mayhem that is illegal off-roading and road creation, damage of federal property, overflowing garbage and toilets, out-of-bounds camping, and the chopping down of literal Joshua trees.

And it isn’t just Joshua Tree bearing the brute force of the barbaric human. Reports have been surfacing of human waste and trash pile-up in a number of national parks, from Yosemite to Death Valley.

“I think there are a number of things that are not very obvious to the general public, like the trash and toilets [are], that are pretty consequential when you have a shutdown,” National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis told the the National Parks Traveler.

While the sight of overflowing waste and cut Joshua trees is shocking (and quite frankly repulsive), there is also major damage happening out-of-sight. The longest-running research initiative in the Shenandoah National park — 200,000 acres in the mountains of Virginia — has come to a grinding halt during the government shutdown. The study examines the impact of acid rain in the mid-Atlantic forests, and the research has been used to understand the effects of air pollution on natural systems. No big deal, unless you like breathing clean air.

Earlier this month, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt instructed all national parks to use fee revenues in order to keep parks open during the shut down. Parks that require an entrance fee often save 80 percent of that revenue for ongoing projects such as park maintenance, visitor services, wildlife habitat needs, and law enforcement.

But just as we have knuckleheads, we too have good samaritans: Volunteers across the country are showing up to clean toilets and take out the trash, helping to tidy up the government-made mess.

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