The Shutdown: a Tale of Two National Park Communities

Yosemite. Arches. You may associate National Parks with fabulous photos, fun and leisure. But these and other federal lands are the major source of employment and income in some communities; and the federal shutdown has been a crisis with much farther reach than people realize and has wrecked much more than winter vacation plans. Tell your Members of Congress: the government needs to reopen, without giving into extortion over funding for an unneeded, unworkable, racist border wall. And then read more, below, to find out how the cynical shutdown is thoughtlessly cutting at the heart of the people and the land where our National Parks are located.

What to say:

My name is ___, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m strongly opposed to the border wall. Thank you for everything you’ve done in opposition to it. I’m counting on you to vote against any bill that has funding for the wall. And don’t let the President keep using federal employees as hostages — we need to reopen the government without funding the wall!

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (415) 981-9369 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Check out Indivisible National’s latest message with updated information about the mess (in DC) and the need for a clean continuing resolution. Then, after you call Senators Feinstein and Harris, here are two great ways that we Blue Staters can spread the word to target Red States!

A Tale of Two National Park communities

1. Inyo County and the Eastern Sierras

The whole of Inyo County has a population of 18,000, and 300 of those people are federal workers. That’s as if there were nearly 7,000 federal workers living in Oakland (there are about 1,600). There’s a good reason: almost 92% of the land in Inyo County is owned and managed by the federal government, including Death Valley, and Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states, and part of Yosemite, and more.

Lone Pine, CA, near Mount Whitney - photo by Ann Daniels
Lone Pine, CA, near Mount Whitney – photo by Ann Daniels

According to a January 19, 2019 article in the Inyo Register, things are bad now for the workers affected by the shutdown, and they’re going to be just as bad when they return to work. Some are considering leaving government employment; it isn’t worth the uncertainty and the depression that they’re suffering, along with the significant lack of income. And it isn’t just government workers who are affected. In Inyo, private sector partners like the nonprofit Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association (ESIA) work with the government employees to operate visitor centers and information services; these workers are locked out too (and they’re not going to get back pay).

ESIA is going the extra mile: they are actually using their own funds to keep some facilities open at the parks in Inyo during the shutdown. And they estimate that they’re going to lose nearly $40,000 in sales revenue from the shuttered visitor centers and gift shops. It could take years for them to recoup those losses. This is one way a government shutdown can wreak havoc on even nongovernmental entities that are part of the backbone of the community.

Now, let’s talk about how the shutdown wreaks havoc on the land: the Register says that workers are “concerned about the daunting task” of making up the work they’re missing. Imagine if no one at your office came to work for a month or more, with no time to prepare in advance. How long would it take to catch up, if the outside world didn’t know you weren’t there and kept piling things on as though you were taking care of business as usual? And if some of your coworkers quit in the meantime because the thought of returning to work was just too awful? Not to put too fine a point on it: nature pays no attention to shutdowns. According to the Inyo Register, this is the time of year when federal agencies should be hiring seasonal firefighters in anticipation of next year’s fire season. Yosemite still shows the scars of recent fires – everyone knows what could happen if next year’s fires can’t be prevented or fought because the government has prevented the work from being done. One would hope the government would care. One would hope.

2. Moab

The town of Moab, Utah is just outside of Arches National Park, one of the most likely places in this country to end up in scenic photographs. The Moab Times-Independent online business section has devoted itself to chronicling the shutdown. Arches and the nearby Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park have reopened to visitors, they report, but not because federal workers have come back to work.

Arches in winter
Arches in winter

As in Inyo, a local nonprofit has chipped in: the Canyonlands Natural History Association is spending about $2,000 a day to keep visitor centers open in the parks, not counting wages to pay the staff in the centers. They don’t expect to be reimbursed any of this money. We’ll do the math for you: that’s $14,000 a week. $60,000 in a month (ok, $56,000 in February). In 2017, the CNHA donated “more than $937,000” “for the educational and research efforts of [their] public land partners” throughout all of Southwest Utah” – again, we’ll do the math for you. One month of keeping the visitor centers open in Arches and Island in the Sky, alone, equals about one month of CNHA’s entire expenditures last year. And that’s money they will not get back – money that they won’t have for other uses, other parks.

Unlike in California, as far as we know, the State of Utah is also expending considerable resources to fill in where the federal government has shut down. The Utah Office of Tourism has put forth money to keep the parks open, and the Utah Department of Transportation has promised aid to clear roads and parking areas in all the state’s major National Parks. That’s money that the state would ordinarily not have used on federal lands; which means that wherever the state had planned to use the money, they will now have to find other sources or do without. Thus an entire state can suffer as a result of a federal shutdown closing the National Parks.

And even with private and state funds and workers filling in, visitors to Moab are cutting their visits short or not coming. Local hotels are reporting cancellations and early departures. With tourism a major part of the local economy, this is how an entire community suffers from the federal shutdown. And an entire state.

Half dome, photo by Ann Daniels
Half dome, photo by Ann Daniels

And, of course, an entire country.

We are Indivisible, and Indestructible!

IEB has been in close touch with Indivisible Sonoma County throughout the terrible fires that have devastated Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino this October. Some ISoCo members and leaders have lost their homes and all they owned; everyone has been deeply affected, as have their whole communities. The following was written by an Indivisible leader from the town of Glen Ellen, California:

When the fires started, I was out of town, working with a client on their annual conference. My daughter’s call woke me Sunday night. She was frantic. “Dad, Mom can see fire through the neighbors’ trees and we’re trying to get the things we need to take with us. What do you need us to take?”

Half-asleep, I tried to think of what we absolutely had to have and talked with them as they raced, grabbing what came to mind as essential, hurrying to get out. Soon they left and I went back to sleep, hoping that fleeing would have just been a precaution. Instead, the next morning my wife’s text began, “Honey, I’m afraid we lost everything.”
After the initial shock, I was just grateful that my family had escaped. They were safe. The dog was with them. That was what mattered to me. Life would go on. We even found out later that the studio and barn had made it through. The house, though, had burned to the ground.

In 2016 this same conference was in November, right after the election. It occurs to me that I was more distraught last year. Restless with dread about Trump and the damage he would cause, I couldn’t sleep, imagining only the worst. Having the conference frame both events, I realized now that I had lost my home two years in a row.

Last year that home was my country. This year it was my house. Losing my country was and is the bigger threat. But I’m rebuilding both, dammit. However long it takes and no matter how hard it is to do.

Our family is lucky. We’re all safe. We were insured. We have emergency funds that we can draw on. But there were thousands here who were impacted as much or more and have less to fall back on. They could use your help. Here are the causes that members of Indivisible groups in Sonoma County are supporting:

Financial:

Volunteerism:

Thank you. We are Indivisible, and Indestructible!