Parks, Refuges, Monuments, and Wilderness

By Mike Matz

People love parks.  If there's one thing we learned from the government shutdown, it's that Americans—and plenty of international visitors, too—put great value on national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments, and wilderness.  Hunters and anglers across the country were unhappy to find that their anticipated forays into nature had to be canceled or postponed.  People get grumpy when they can't get into these places because rangers are furloughed and gates are locked.

It's not just that tourists and sportsmen were inconvenienced, but businesses dependent on tourism dollars were badly hurt by the 16-day interruption in government services.  It came at peak season for places like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, and Zion in Utah.  The economic hit to local motels and restaurants in gateway communities was so big that some states struck agreements with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to pay for reopening national parks out of state coffers.

The complaints reached such a fevered pitch that the House of Representatives moved to provide funding for parks, wildlife refuges, and other attractions, separate from opening the rest of the federal government. The Senate, however, stuck to its position that it shouldn't be done piecemeal and didn't go along with the proposal.

caw-High-Uinta-Wilderness-776-RC-5

High Uinta Wilderness in Utah

Wilderness areas fall into a separate category from national parks.  Components of the National Wilderness Preservation System, unless they lie within a national park or wildlife refuge, were unaffected by the shutdown.  Hikers who wanted their dose of canyon country could visit the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, in Arizona.  Hunters could get into the Weminuche Wilderness in San Juan National Forest in Colorado or the High Uintas Wilderness in the Wasatch-Uinta-Cache National Forest in Utah to pursue elk as planned.   Boaters, excited about their river adventure, could get onto the Owyhee River on BLM lands in southern Idaho.

In Alabama and Arkansas, New Hampshire and New Mexico, Washington and Wyoming, visitors to wild places on national forests and BLM lands were unaffected by the government shutdown, and  businesses in nearby communities stayed in the black and localities collected their sales tax receipts because tourists came despite the 16-day shutdown. 

Aside from the other benefits, designated wilderness protects clean sources of drinking water, healthy air to breathe, and majestic vistas and seasonal colors at which to marvel.  It provides alternatives for Americans and foreign visitors to see the outdoors or visit public lands they hold so dear.  If the shutdown showed us anything, it's that our natural heritage is hugely popular.  And lucrative, too, to the economies of small, rural towns.

Congress could help ensure that there will always be plenty of spectacular public lands to enjoy.  It should act on the more than 20 bills that have been introduced by Democrats and Republicans alike to designate additional wild places in the wilderness system.  The President, likewise, can exercise his prerogative under the Antiquities Act to proclaim deserving swathes of public lands as national monuments on national forests and BLM lands.  He, too, should act.

Outdoor spaces are enormously popular.  Congress and the President should protect them permanently.  If national parks and monuments are shut down again, people will then have alternatives on other public lands to enjoy open spaces, secluded canyons, lush forests, and wild country.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.