As we continue into week three of the partial government shutdown, public lands including national parks, US forest service (USFS), and bureau of land management (BLM) areas remain open to the public. Government shutdowns occur when the President of the United States and Congress disagree with regards to funding of federal programs and employees. Nine federal departments have been financially impacted by the current shutdown, including the primary agencies managing public lands. Beyond the loss of income for employees working for federal land management, these departments lose an estimated several hundred thousand dollars a day due to uncollected visitor fees and spending (source), which could lead to decreased services in the future. Unlike in previous government shutdowns, access to public lands is currently permitted; however, visitor services and management are absent or severely reduced, prompting immediate and long-term consequences for the landscapes.
As a primary trail user group, mountain bikers have a responsibility to support conservation and the long-term health of landscapes in exchange for our rights to access. Considering our use of public lands during the government shutdown, it is essential that we understand the immediate concerns and lasting effects of the shutdown and act accordingly.
Every-day stressors such as litter, human waste, and road/trail damage are exacerbated due to the lack of visitor services. These issues are well documented in our national parks, resulting in countless news outlets rallying volunteer support to prevent extensive damage.
While not as glamorous as national parks, trail systems on USFS and BLM land deserve the same considerations by trail users. Picking up litter on the trail, leaving no trace, considering bathroom needs before getting to the trailhead, avoiding cutting trail or skidding corners, and repairing minor damage to trails will have a large impact on the longevity of the landscape while displaying that we as a community understand the value of the landscape and are capable of stewarding it without supervision.
Beyond damage to the landscape, public land users should be aware that emergency services such as search and rescue are limited to emergency situations during shutdowns. Preparation is imperative in these situations, with federal agencies suggesting groups carry navigation equipment and first aid, as well as extra food, water, and clothing.
Less tangible than the above issues, lasting impacts affecting our public lands are occurring in the form of canceled events involving the USFS and the ability of land managers to meet funding/planning deadlines. Cancelled events include trail work days in conjunction with cycling organizations, field work with non-profits addressing ecological impacts, and community meetings regarding trail access. Failure of government employees to submit grant proposals and plans by government deadlines will further compound the impact by delaying mitigation efforts directed at fire suppression, deadfall removal, and large-scale trail rehabilitation and creation.
Even Singletracks’ ability to deliver mountain bike news is being impacted as we await official response from federal land managers on stories we’re currently researching. Summer permitting for shuttle and tour operators and event organizers is potentially impacted as well.
I am far from suggesting anyone cancel their plans to visit and ride bicycles in public lands during the shutdown, but encourage consideration of the above factors affecting the places we love. Agency web pages for many public lands may not update information during the shutdown, so please respect and adapt to limited or restricted access to roads, trailheads, and other areas during this time. Consider donating to your local trail stewards and plan on a volunteer day this year to make up for limited trail services.
Your turn: Have you experienced any impact of the partial government shutdown related to mountain biking? Let us know in the comments.
I am very disappointed to hear that trash is piling up at federal lands. If you can bring something in with you, you can bring it out. This should be the general rule, always. It’s not the government’s job to clean up after you. If you believe it is, stay off the land until the government is reopens.
You are 100% spot on…
The gov’t shutdown has had about zero effect on most Americans. I say we build the wall with the money we are saving and keep the partial shutdown in place permanently. Two birds, one stone.
Dillon, displaying the massive wildfire photo is over-the-top imo. First of all, we are outside fire season(s) across the western US. I am unaware of any active wildfires or un-contained wildfires in the US. Secondly, I am quite certain that fire suppression services would be activated in the event of a threatening wildfire. Remember this is a partial shutdown and exceptions can be made. Thirdly, fire suppression services of large project wildfires (such as portrayed/insinuated by the photo) are managed by the Incident Command System. The same system that manages devastating earthquakes or hurricanes and other catastrophes. I’m certain these services are available and can activated as needed per usual.
Hi Mongwolf, I appreciate the constructive criticism and will take it into account for future articles. I agree with your above statements regarding fire suppression and emergency response services during the shutdown; however, I think we are crossing mixed signals. In article, I refer to fire mitigation, not suppression. Mitigation is work done by the USFS, BLM etc that focuses on minimizing destructive effects of wildfire prior to the need for suppression. This work (controlled burns, brush gathering, forest thinning) is often done outside of fire season across the western US in order to minimize the likely hood of burns getting out of control. More personnel are also available outside of fire season as they are not assigned to active or potential fire areas. The government shutdown has put ~800,000 people out of a paycheck and away from their work, including writing grants and actively managing wildfire mitigation.
Hopefully the above satisfies with regards to why I chose a wildfire photo with respect to future affects of the government shutdown.
This is also an interesting piece on the shutdown and fire mitigation that went out today.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but apparently it does. The shutdown does not make it ok to poach trails that are off-limits to bikes.
Jeff, very good point!
The messed up thing is hikers are always on our trials regardless of shutdown. It really sucks being close to a KOM only to have a person who cant get out of their own way make you stop to go around them.
There were fewer fires when the Forest Service was still doing timber management and providing needed forest product resources for the public. Most all of the fuel breaks and woody debris treatments were done under a timber management program. It is disappointing this little known fact is overlooked. A return to multi use for our public lands would be beneficial on many levels. There is modern expertise to facilitate what I have suggested. Too bad that many cannot see the forest for the trees. Living in Arizona makes me think that protecting our border would also be beneficial on many levels as well.
Thanks for the interaction of fire mgt Dillion. You are quite right about fire mitigation in general and it being done in the “offseason”. However, for this winter the West has been so wet that there are just a handful of control burns in operation before the shutdown (too moist to do control burns) (take a look at the inciweb current and historic records for this year). So though you may be right for most years if there were a government shutdown, this year your thinking is not applicable. And I appreciate your response about the photo itself. Let’s use a control burn photo to represent control burns and fire mitigation, not a massive wildfire photo … though I understand that’s what we are trying to prevent.