Poop in National Parks… AP and WaPo Weigh In

In this Monday, Dec. 31, 2018 photo provided by Dakota Snider shows a road lined with trash in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Human feces, overflowing garbage, illegal off-roading and other damaging behavior in fragile areas were beginning to overwhelm some of the West’s iconic national parks on Monday, as a partial government shutdown left the areas open to visitors but with little staff on duty. (Dakota Snider via AP)

We started this discussion here. Since then, more articles have come out to give more context.  This morning in the Washington Post, we have this story headlined “In shutdown, national parks transform into Wild West — heavily populated and barely supervised”. It looks like there are at least two sets of problems, (1) trash and bathrooms, and (2) people doing illegal things, and/or being mean to each other aka “Wild West” or “Lord of the Flies.” My original post wondered why people who use Parks would be so much worse than people who use National Forests or BLM land, who seem to get along at campsites without hosts. Are they different kinds of people? I’ve seen small campgrounds in the nearby (to Joshua Tree) Angeles National Forest (even campgrounds without water, nor trash pickup, nor people available to moderate disputes). It might be that people come from greater distances, spend more money and expect more at Parks, but why would that turn Sally the Camper into Lord (or Lady) of the Flies? That was my original question. I think it would be a fascinating and useful topic for social science research as all places get more crowded. It’s funny that we have spent zillions of dollars trying to predict how climate change will change parks, and we know so little about human behavior that is a more urgent threat.

From this AP story:

Campers at Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California’s deserts were reporting squabbles as different families laid claims to sites, with no rangers on hand to adjudicate, said Ethan Feltges, who operates the Coyote Corner gift shop outside Joshua Tree.

From a WaPo piece here:

It’s not quite ‘Lord of the Flies’ yet,” said Bryan Min, 30, who traveled to Joshua Tree with friends from Orange County and is camping outside the park. “Who knows how it’ll be tonight?”

In the WaPo article, they talk to different parks around the country. Most seem to be getting on with help from nearby businesses and Park concessionaires. They also look at the staying open vs. closing idea, and mention that some local businesses and visitors prefer staying open.

Some advocates for the parks aren’t happy about this situation, fearing that visitors will do permanent damage to the parks and disrupt fragile ecosystems. They’d like to see the parks fully closed.

“The parks are supposed to be heritage sites for generation after generation. I would rather they close than be damaged,” said Joe De Luca, a sales associate at Nomad Ventures in the town of Joshua Tree.

During a government shutdown in 2013, Joshua Tree was closed to all visitors. The winter holiday season is a busy time here and important for local businesses, and some people are grateful that the park hasn’t blocked access this time, said Kenji Haroutunian, president of Friends of Joshua Tree, a nonprofit climbing organization.

Here’s the tagline for this AP story: Unlike shutdowns in some previous administrations, the Trump administration was leaving parks open to visitors despite the staff furloughs.

The Trump administration is front and center, courtesy of the NPCA representative (remember, those are the folks who said the Trump administration was interested in logging in National Parks).

Unlike shutdowns in some previous administrations, the Trump administration was leaving parks open to visitors despite the staff furloughs, said John Garder, senior budget director of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association.

“We’re afraid that we’re going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts,” Garder said. “We’re concerned there’ll be impacts to visitors’ safety.”

“It’s really a nightmare scenario,” Garder said.

8 thoughts on “Poop in National Parks… AP and WaPo Weigh In”

  1. “My original post wondered why people who use Parks would be so much worse than people who use National Forests or BLM land, who seem to get along at campsites without hosts. Are they different kinds of people?”

    A couple of thoughts. Perhaps there are cases where “different kinds of people” go to visit a National Park during the holiday season, than might visit a more-random parcel of BLM or Forest Service land. Perhaps some people visiting a popular National Park during the holidays (ie Christmas, New Years, Memorial Day, Labor Day) are not regular visitors of our public lands during the rest of the year, and visiting an established and popular National Park that has a variety of amenities and services is more comfortable for some folks.

    If that’s the case, all the more reason that if Trump and the GOP wanted to shut down the government, the Trump administration also should’ve ordered the closure of all National Parks, or made plans to keep all the Parks open with full services, including all the rangers and NPS employees working and paid.

    Anyway, regarding “different kinds of people”…..

    A simple google search (here, here and here) will provide ample evidence that dozens and dozens of BLM, USFS, USFWS, and Bureau of Reclamation sites around the country are plagued by illegal activities by visitors. Often times, those public land visitors live very close to the public lands that they degrade, destroy or engage in illegal activity on. In other words, the crimes are being committed by rural locals, not ‘city slickers’ who might only visit public land a few times in their lives.

    P.S. Here’s what some random trash cans on U.S. public lands (ie The National Mall) looked like over the Holidays because Donald Trump decided to shut-down the federal government.

    • The Donald J. Trump National Dump? Just wait til a blustery storm comes in and spreads the trash all around. I’m still amazed that our lawmakers prefer their politics, instead of the desires of their constituents. History is happening now! (And the whole world is watching)

  2. I agree 1) Some people do bad things
    2) And some people don’t (why?)
    3) There is lots of public land
    4) If we need to Parkify (staff up at the Park Service level) every acre of federal land to protect it and keep people safe, we are in deep doo doo (so to speak)
    5) We don’t seem to know what makes people behave badly nor whom to encourage to be different. I’m not saying I know that regular users are better, I’m saying that we don’t seem to have any information (researchers chime in here). This seems like a great opportunity for a social science strike team to conduct some interviews.

    As to blaming the shutdown on the R’s, I don’t know how the backroom convos have gone and unfortunately I can’t believe either side’s version of events (nor the press’s reporting of either side of events). Because politicians are not known as truth-tellers. Call me agnostic on this.

    • “As to blaming the shutdown on the R’s….”

      Facts: When the Government shut down, the GOP controlled the House. The GOP controlled the Senate. And the GOP controlled the White House. The House and Senate both passed legislation would have avoided the shutdown. The GOP president refused to sign it. And the GOP leaders in the House and GOP leaders in the Senate refused to call Congress back into session.

      Reading all the shutdown stories coming from our National Parks, it’s almost like the same political party (The GOP) – who for the past 20+ years has defunded America’s parks and public lands, tried to sell off America’s public lands, tried to transfer America’s federal public lands to states and done everything in their power to gut and undermine every bedrock conservation, public land, wildlife and environmental law we have in America – wants to create a public lands situation where their big business buddies, donors and behind-the-scenes political operatives ride to the “rescue” to “save” America’s National Parks through privatization and corporate takeovers.

      P.S. Once again, I’m entirely independent politically…I’ve voted for Dems, GOP, Greens, Libertarians, wrote in friends and respected members of my community and also left plenty of slots blank for lack of decent candidates.

      • For whatever it’s worth…Yesterday, the first day of the 116th session of Congress, the U.S. House passed a bill to end the shutdown of the federal government. Again, before the government shut down, both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate passed bills to keep it open. Trump refused to sign those bills, thus shutting down the federal government. We shall see what happens now.

        • For whatever it’s worth…In the 27 days since Donald Trump shutdown the federal government, the GOP-controlled Senate has NOT held a SINGLE vote to re-open the federal government. Meanwhile, the House (controlled by the Dem Party) has passed, and continues to pass, numerous bills to re-open the federal government.

          See: https://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/425945-mcconnell-blocks-bill-to-reopen-most-of-government

          Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked legislation on Thursday that would have reopened most of the federal government impacted by the partial shutdown.

          Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tried to get consent to take up a House-passed bill that would reopen all agencies except the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is at the center of the shutdown fight. But McConnell objected.

          It’s also worth nothing that for the past 25 years pretty much any republican who has run for federal public office has done so by campaigning on their hatred and disdain of the federal government and maybe of the federal government’s programs and employees.

          It’s almost as if this Trump Shutdown is by design and culmination of over two decades of work by the GOP to undermine the federal government in America.

  3. If they are going to keep the parks open then they should keep the trash picked up and the bathrooms open. The results otherwise seem fairly obvious.
    The FS could use more and better bathroom facilities. But since most of the their funding goes up in smoke….

    • Speaking of going up in smoke, have you looked at the Defense Department budget Bob?

      Speaking of going up in smoke, does climate change have anything to do with wildfires?

      Speaking of climate change, does the U.S. Defense Department spend trillions of dollars – and kill millions of people and ruin the lives of tens of millions of people around the globe – to protect the interests of fossil fuel corporations?

      Have any of our wars (including the longest running war in U.S. history) been over oil?

      Also, in a move that would make President (and general) Dwight D. Eisenhower roll over in his grave, Trump just put a Boeing executive in charge of the Defense Department.

      “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” – President Dwight Eisenhower, January, 17, 1961


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