Editor’s Note: This column was written by Kurt Repanshek for the National Parks Traveler.
As the partial government shutdown drags on towards its fourth week, so does the National Park Service’s (NPS) blackout on news regarding what’s going on in the parks with most of the staff furloughed. When the government does get back to work, expect more than a few Freedom of Information Act requests filed concerning not just the decision-making regarding keeping the parks open, but what damage occurred.
Top National Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., are keeping a tight clamp on the flow of information. After I talked to David Smith, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park, last week about resource damage in his park, he evidently was gagged by Washington.
“As you may know, the Washington office has instructed all park service employees — whenever we talk to the national media — to remind you that you need to submit your questions in advance to the Washington office for review,” he told E&E News after they read our story and reached out to Smith.
And when that filter is clamped on, the information flow slows to a trickle.
Last week came the decision to redirect Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act funds (FLREA), which Congress intended to be used for whittling away at the National Park System’s estimated $11.6 billion maintenance backlog and enhancing the visitor experience, to pay for daily chores. That prompted our questions to NPS headquarters about how that decision will impact existing plans for FLREA revenues, how it might impact the battle with deferred maintenance, and whether parks that in the winter months see few visitors will lose FLREA funds they banked from last year’s busy season to the now busy warm-weather parks. Those questions went unanswered.
The decision to divert FLREA funds, made by acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith, came after they realized the parks could not handle typical crowds with a skeleton workforce.
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