Roundup: Government Shutdown Impacts National Parks

The current government shutdown has now entered its third week, and it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

The shutdown began on midnight EST on Saturday, December 22, making it the third government shutdown of 2018. President Trump wanted to move forward with building a Mexican border wall, which would require an estimated $5 billion. The House of Representatives, in which the Democrats are a majority, has been unwilling to go above the current $1.3 billion budget for general border security. Trump has threatened to extend the shutdown for a long period until he gets the demanded funding. Click here for a breakdown of the events leading up to the shutdown. 

This shutdown has left about 800,000 government workers without their salaries. Many have shared their personal stories with CNN about not being able to pay bills and rent on time. They describe their difficulties in providing for their children and families. Many have sought temporary jobs to help keep themselves afloat. Vital public benefit programs might also be at risk. According to CBS Newsfunding for SNAP, the national food stamp program, has not been allocated since the start of January. If the shutdown continues through March, no money will remain for the millions of Americans who rely on this program for food security.

Many national parks have also felt the impact of the government shutdown, including some major destinations home to glaciers. Parks are still largely accessible to the public, and entrance fees are not being collected. However, the lack of public services has been a major issue for visitors and local businesses. Here are some glacier parks that are currently suffering some impacts as a result of the shutdown.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State has had a partial shutdown on some parts of the park. This closure has affected tourism and traffic in the area which would normally be high during this time and around the Christmas and New Year holidays. The popular road to Paradise has experienced a forced closure, and local firms around the entrance have been vocal about the lost business. Local retailers, restaurants, and hotels in particular are being challenged by the lack of tourism. According to The Olympian, business owners that rely on the tourism industry have reported a decrease of sales and hotel reservations than would normally be expected at this time of year.  

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, has had significant problems with sanitation and waste. Restrooms have been closed and there are no park staff available for supervision. Some visitors of the park have opted to dispose of their various forms of waste alongside some of the roads. Mountains of garbage and human waste has led to some closures in areas of the park, like Wawona Road and Hodgson Meadows. National Geographic says that national parks like Yosemite face long-term damage from the government shutdown, and parks should be closed completely to prevent further harm to the environment.

GlacierHub spoke with a motel employee from Yosemite Cedar Lodge, who told us how business has been affected since the shutdown. According to our source, who wished to remain anonymous, there hasn’t been a large change in business, although some guests have left early. She told us that it’s hard to say exactly if it’s because of the government shutdown, but it could also be due to the recent nearby fires or other factors as well. As for the waste situation, we were told that having no ranger supervision in the parks has allowed guests to act without restraint.

The lack of park supervision may also be a contributing factor to a recent death at Yosemite. Since the start of the shutdown, three people have died in national parks. One tragedy took place in Yosemite on Christmas day, where a man slipped down a hill and fell into a river, injuring his head. Investigation of the incident was delayed because of the ongoing shutdown. A study that draws on data from 2005 to 2016 indicates that about 1.1 person dies per month in Yosemite, roughly 0.6 per month in Glen Canyon and 0.4 in Great Smoky, the three locations where the deaths occurred. Though people have died over the years in these parks, the deaths in recent weeks are at a more frequent rate than usual, suggesting that the government shutdown and lack of services may have contributed to this pattern. 

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Some parks have received visitors but with limited activity. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have remained open during the shutdown, although visitor services is unavailable. In a statement for the Casper Star-Tribune, Deputy Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said that visitors to Grand Teton should take caution for their own personal safety, as there are no staff available for guidance and assistance. Entrances are not staffed, and the park’s websites and social media accounts are not being maintained or updated, leaving the public uninformed on current conditions.

In Yellowstone, winter routes remain open although gates are not staffed and government facilities are not available. All regulations for snow-related activities remain in place, and all buildings and bathrooms are closed. Community members in the Yellowstone area have recently taken matters into their own hands. Concerned about the lack of care of park facilities, local residents have gathered to clean outhouses and take out trash. Businesses have donated supplies to help with the much needed cleanup efforts.

Glacier National Park

Some glacier destinations, however, have not been heavily impacted. The shutdown has made little difference at Glacier National Park, which is usually quiet during the winter with road closures from heavy snows. Bathrooms are still closed because of the shutdown, but trash cans are not reported to be overflowing due to the low amount of traffic relative to other parks. Businesses have said that they haven’t been affected much, and conditions are as typically expected despite the shutdown.

GlacierHub spoke with Mauri Pelto, professor of environmental science Nichols College and director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. Pelto also does work with NASA Goddard and the USGS. He told us that the shutdown has prevented some NASA glacier projects and programs from being executed properly. The USGS, which tracks ongoing conditions in the national parks, currently conducts monitoring. Weather and environmental observations at the national parks with glaciers have been collected but are not being reported by the U.S. government, jeopardizing long-term projects.

“Sometimes shutdowns, even relatively short shutdowns, can push the planning and budgeting process for some of these programs, which can greatly affect future research,” stated Pelto. He also described the effects on the Northern Cascades National Park in Washington. Roadways are mainly forest roadways, which have also closed as a result of the shutdown. Smaller roadways have not received maintenance since the shutdown, and there are concerns as to how conditions will be once the roads open up again, whenever that may be.

There is very little information on conditions at the Northern Cascades and other national parks on the U.S. National Park Services webpage. Lack of information on closures, visitor services, and tips for taking precaution during the shutdown period greatly impacts tourism and safety. Although parks are still mostly accessible, proper staff supervision and visitor services are needed to ensure the safety of visitors and the overall wellbeing of the parks.

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Native Americans Call to Change Names of Yellowstone Sites

An organization of tribal leaders representing Indian Nations in the Dakotas and Nebraska has called for a name change of Yellowstone National Park’s Mt. Doane and Hayden Valley.

Mt. Doane, a 10,500-foot peak located in the Absaroka Range along the eastern boundary of the park, was named after Gustavus Doane, an American lieutenant who played a major role in a large massacre of Native peoples in 1870. Tribes across the United States and Canada have joined a petition to change the name of Mt. Doane to “First Peoples Mountain.”

In addition, a number of groups have called to change the name of Hayden Valley, a major attraction located in the center of Yellowstone National Park. The valley was created by glacial retreat about 13,000 years ago. However, like Mt. Doane, the name of the valley is contentious. It was named after Ferdinand V. Hayden, a geologist and surveyor who advocated for removal of Native Americans.

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park (Source: Freddie Tanedo/Flickr).
The name change petitions in Yellowstone mirror a national movement to remove monuments and landmarks tied to racism.  
 In an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Chief Stanley Charles Grier of the Piikani Nation said Hayden “incited this hatred towards indigenous peoples at the time in his policies and his written statements.”

In August, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, along with individual tribes, submitted a proposition to change the name of the iconic valley to
 “Buffalo Nations Valley.”

 

However, controversy surrounds these petitions. In early 2018, elected county park commissioners in Wyoming voted against the Native Americans’ proposal for these landmarks to be renamed. Some commissioners expressed that changing these two names would open the door to a long series of controversies and debates over the naming of other landmarks. Moreover, they have advocated that people like the current names and are comfortable with them.
Although the committee voted against the name change, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names has the final authority on the decision.Regardless of what the board determines, many Native communities remain committed to calling the landmarks by their Indigenous names. Len Necefer, a member of Navajo Nation who received a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy is a leader in this effort. Necefer stimulates and encourages people to place geotags using the location’s Indigenous name. Necefer created social media pages on Facebook and Instagram to check in to places using geotags that show Native place names and indicate their locations around Colorado. @NativeOutdoors has over 20 thousand followers on Instagram and encourages the dialogue and acknowledgement of Native communities in public wild spaces.
@NativesOutdoors(Source: NativesOutdoors/Instagram)

The push to rename Hayden Valley and Mount Doane is part of a movement that is likely to continue.

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Roundup: Subglacial Drainage, Extremophiles and Yellowstone Name Change

Subglacial Drainage Under a Valley Glacier in the Yukon

From The Cryosphere: “The subglacial drainage system is one of the main controls on basal sliding, but remains only partially understood. Here we use an 8-year dataset of borehole observations on a small, alpine polythermal valley glacier in the Yukon Territory to assess qualitatively how well the established understanding of drainage physics explains the observed temporal evolution and spatial configuration of the drainage system.”

Read more about the study here.

Kathleen Lake Yukon on GlacierHub
Kathleen Lake in Klaune National Park, Yukon (Source: Creative Commons).

 

Extremophiles at Deception Island Volcano in Antarctica

From Extremophiles: “Deception Island is notable for its pronounced temperature gradients over very short distances, reaching values up to 100 °C in the fumaroles, and subzero temperatures next to the glaciers. Our main goal in this study was to isolate thermophilic and psychrophilic bacteria from sediments associated with fumaroles and glaciers from two geothermal sites, and to evaluate their survivability to desiccation and UV-C radiation. Our results revealed that culturable thermophiles and psychrophiles were recovered among the extreme temperature gradient in Deception volcano, which indicates that these extremophiles remain alive even when the conditions do not comprise their growth range.”

Learn more about extremophiles here.

Image of an extremophile, Tardigrades, which are found in a range of extreme environments (Source: E. Schokraie et al./Creative Commons).

 

Native Americans Seek to Rename Yellowstone Peak

From The Guardian: “A valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, formed by a glacier, may get a new name. Hayden Valley is glacial, dating back to the last Ice Age. It was named after a surveyor, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden who advocated removing Native Americans from the region. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, comprising tribal chairmen of 16 Sioux tribes from Nebraska and the Dakotas, is pursuing an application to change the name of Hayden Valley to Buffalo Nations Valley.”

Find out more about the news here.

Hayden Valley Yellowstone on GlacierHub
Hayden Valley (Source: Yellowstone National Park).
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Roundup: Microbial Mats, Hidden Heat, and Tree Infection

Benthic Microbial Mats in Meltwater from Collins Glacier

From Polar Biology: “Most of Fildes Peninsula is ice-free during summer thereby allowing for formation of networks of creeks with meltwater from Collins Glacier and snowmelt. A variety of benthic microbial mats develop within these creeks. The composition of these microbial communities has not been studied in detail. In this report, clone libraries of bacterial and cyanobacterial 16S rRNA genes were used to describe the microbial community structure of four mats near a shoreline of Drake Passage. Samples were collected from four microbial mats, two at an early developmental stage (December) and two collected latter in late summer (April). Sequence analysis showed that filamentous Cyanobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria, and Betaproteobacteria were the most abundant ribotypes.”

Learn more about the microbial mats here.

Microbial mat on a sandy depositional surface (Source: GSA).

 

Geothermal Heat Flux Hidden Beneath Greenland Ice Sheet

From Nature: “The Greenland ice sheet (GIS) is losing mass at an increasing rate due to surface melt and flow acceleration in outlet glaciers… Recently it was suggested that there may be a hidden heat source beneath GIS caused by a higher than expected geothermal heat flux (GHF) from the Earth’s interior. Here we present the first direct measurements of GHF from beneath a deep fjord basin in Northeast Greenland. Temperature and salinity time series (2005–2015) in the deep stagnant basin water are used to quantify a GHF of 93 ± 21 mW m−2 which confirm previous indirect estimated values below GIS. A compilation of heat flux recordings from Greenland show the existence of geothermal heat sources beneath GIS and could explain high glacial ice speed areas such as the Northeast Greenland ice stream.”

Learn more about the hidden heat flux here.

Aerial Image of Greenland Ice Sheet (Source: NOAA).

 

Blister Infection on the Whitebark Pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

From University of Wyoming National Park Service Research Center: “Whitebark pine is a keystone and foundation tree species in high elevation ecosystems of the Rocky Mountains. At alpine treelines along the eastern Rocky Mountain Front and in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, whitebark pine often initiates tree islands through facilitation, thereby shaping vegetation pattern. This role will likely diminish if whitebark pine succumbs to white pine blister rust infection, climate change stress, and mountain pine beetle infestations. Here, we established baseline measurements of whitebark pine’s importance and blister infection rates at two alpine treelines in Grand Teton National Park.”

Read more about the blister infection on Whitebark pine here.

Whitebark pine on the Continental Divide of the the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (Source: Taisie Design).
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Comment Period Still Open on Proposed Fee Hikes at National Parks

Photo of Denali
Mt. Denali in Denali National Park peaking through the clouds (Source: Mark Stevens/Creative Commons).

Glaciers are an integral part of many national parks in the United States. They have helped shape some of the country’s most iconic landscapes like Yellowstone and enrich spectacular scenery in other parks like Mount Rainier, Denali and Glacier. However, on October 24, the National Park Service (NPS) announced a proposed increase in peak-season entry fees at 17 national parks, including at several parks with glaciers. In some cases the proposal could more than double the single vehicle entry fee from $30 to $70, creating obstacles for low and middle income visitors wanting to enjoy America’s natural splendor.

The NPS opened the proposed entrance fee hike to a public comment period that runs until December 22. Citizens are encouraged to provide feedback on the proposal to help determine if and where the entry fee increase will be put in place. The revenue generated from the entry fee increase would be used to improve infrastructure like roads and bathrooms in National Parks, the NPS said. It is estimated to add an additional $70 million in annual revenue, a 34 percent increase in comparison to the $200 million revenue total for 2016.

The 17 national parks where the proposed increase would be implemented are the busiest in the system, according to the NPS. Many of these parks, including Denali, Glacier, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, and Yosemite, contain glaciers or have been molded by past glaciations. The complete list of parks impacted by the fee hike can be found here.

Photo of Mt Rainer
Mt. Rainer in Mount Rainer National Park (Source: Eric Prado/Creative Commons).

When one thinks of the birth of federal parks in the United States, they may conjure images of the geysers of Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park. Nonetheless, glaciers are rightly considered the old and faithful natural feature that led to the formation of our parks. A new paper published in Earth Sciences History by Denny M. Capps, the park geologist of Denali National Park, for example, details the role of glaciers and glacier research in the development of U.S. National Parks.

Capps documents that the history of glaciers and national parks starts with the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864, eight years before the establishment of Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park. The act, signed by Abraham Lincoln, set aside land for use by the public for recreation for the first time in the United States. Four years later, naturalist John Muir traveled to Yosemite for the first time and was deeply enthralled with the landscape. During his time at Yosemite, Muir conducted some of the first research on glaciers and fought to preserve the park by founding the Sierra Club. Next, in 1872, came the signing of the Yellowstone Act by Ulysses S. Grant establishing Yellowstone National Park. The act states that the area was “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” And although there is a history of entrance fees, these fees were historically kept low and affordable.

Photo of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park (Source: Wayne Hsieh/Creative Commons).

The next significant moment for glaciers and national parks came in 1916 with the formation of the NPS through the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 signed by Woodrow Wilson. Capps writes that the Organic Act focused on conserving scenery, natural objects, historic objects, and wildlife, four elements he argues are supported by geology and glaciers. Glaciers embody the definition of geologic heritage put forth by the NPS Geologic Resources Division, according to Capps. The definition states that noteworthy geologic features are preserved for the values they provide to society including scientific, aesthetic, cultural, ecosystem, educational, recreational, and tourism, among others. The natural beauty of Yosemite and the educational value of the recession of glaciers in Glacier are two examples Capps provides.

Glaciers continue to enhance some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States, providing natural beauty for the public to enjoy. The NPS’s proposed entry fee hike could impact American citizen’s accessibility to these parks. Since its announcement the proposal has been met with mixed reviews. Some news outlets like Slate have voiced support for the increase, citing perpetual underfunding and overcrowding, while others like the Denver Post call it a “slap to the face to low income families.”

In response to the proposal, the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) stated, “We should not increase fees to such a degree as to make these places – protected for all Americans to experience – unaffordable for some families to visit. The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors.” Nick Janssen, who has climbed Denali and owns a packraft rental company in the area spoke to GlacierHub about the proposed fee hike. Janssen echoed the NPCA’s view stating that although park fees are not new, an increase of this magnitude “prohibits those of lower means from enjoying what should be a basic privilege for all.”

Glacier National Park (Source: Seth King/Creative Commons).

While the entry fee proposal would raise needed funds and possibly reduce overcrowding that negatively impacts sensitive areas, there are other options available. One of these options is the National Park Service Legacy Act of 2017. The bipartisan act, introduced to Congress in March, would direct revenue from annual oil and gas royalties into a restoration fund until 2047. The NPCA has endorsed the act, with its president Theresa Pierno stating that the “bipartisan, bicameral proposal makes a strong investment that our parks desperately need and deserve.”

Is a restoration fund the solution? Or are park entry hikes the right way to fund improvements? Ultimately, it is up to the American public to voice their opinions before the comment periods ends on December 22 at 11:59pm.

If interested in commenting on the proposal you can do so here, and when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and reflect on what you are thankful for, you might reflect on living in a democracy where one person can submit a comment and positively impact a nation.

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What’s New with Ryan Zinke: Big Sky & the Arctic Refuge

Big Sky Resort and the Madison Glacial Range

Secretary Ryan Zinke with Rep. Steve Daines on March 8, 2017, a few days before Zinke attended Daines’s event at Big Sky Resort (Source: Twitter).

Big Sky Resort in southwest Montana is making headlines for a controversial visit made by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke back in March. Big Sky Resort is a winter haven for ski-lovers across the United States, part of the Madison Range, home to nine perennial ice features of snowfields and rock glaciers. In addition to being open for snow activity, the resort also welcomes weddings, conferences, and most recently, political campaign fundraisers meant to attract wealthy out-of-state lobbyists.

Since GlacierHub last covered the Secretary, Zinke now faces allegations of mixing political activities with official business while traveling outside of Washington, suggesting he wasn’t at Big Sky to admire the rock glaciers and snowfields.

Following the resignation of former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price over private-jet travel at the end of September, Zinke has come under similar scrutiny, as first reported by Politico on October 10. One of the multiple trips under political investigation includes his “Weekend in the Montana Mountains” at Big Sky Resort.

Rep. Steve Daines, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary Ryan Zinke ride horseback at Yellowstone National Park (Source: Twitter).

After spending Friday, March 17, riding horseback with park officials and Vice President Mike Pence at the nearby Yellowstone National Park, Zinke spent the evening and entirety of Saturday at a 2020 fundraising campaign for fellow Montanan GOP Senator Steve Daines. During this time, the Federal Election Commission did not list any reimbursement payments to the Interior for the events. Although Zinke wasn’t named on the invitation, his official schedule listed him as attending events throughout that weekend at Big Sky and flying back to D.C. on Sunday by private jet.

Other controversial trips include political fundraisers in the Virgin Islands, Anchorage, Alaska, and Las Vegas, Nevada, all while on official Interior business. Although Zinke isn’t the first Trump administration official to come under scrutiny for using government resources for official travel, his trips have certainly raised eyebrows of ethics officials for possible violations of the Hatch Act. Watchdog organizations have already asked the Office of Special Counsel to open a Hatch Act investigation to look into Zinke’s use of travel and political activities while in office. These organizations, including the Campaign Legal Center, question whether Zinke is focused enough on his day job given the amount of attention he has paid to fundraising campaigns. The Department of Interior did not respond to GlacierHub’s calls for comment.

Zinke’s Push for Resource Extraction on Public Lands in Alaska

Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3352: National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska in May 2017 (Source: Flickr/U.S. Department of the Interior).

But mixing political activities with official business haven’t been the only headlines Zinke has faced in past weeks.

On October 25, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the Department of the Interior released their latest report explaining the “burdens” that “impede the production and transportation of energy resources.” The Interior has the authority to oversee energy resources produced on federal lands and waters, and Zinke intends to revoke many of the Obama-era regulations that protect environmentally-vulnerable regions of the country, including glaciers, from economic exploitation.

One of the regions under the Trump Administration’s radar is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). As GlacierHub reported previously, Zinke has long had his eye on this ecologically-rich glacial region for its potential price tag. In May, for example, Zinke signed an order with the intent of jump-starting energy production in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A), which includes the ANWR and in particular the 1002 area.

“American energy production benefits the economy, the environment, and national security. First, it’s better for the environment that the U.S. produces energy. Thanks to advancements in drilling and mining technology, we can responsibly develop our energy resources and return the land to equal or better quality than it was before,” Zinke said in a statement made on March 29 regarding President Trump’s executive order on energy independence. Proponents of preserving the ecological integrity of the region have expressed that drilling will damage an already fragile region.

However, despite the uneasiness of environmental groups, Zinke described how “developing our energy resources to grow our economy and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive” in his latest report. He emphasized that revisiting and repealing “Obama-era job killing regulations” will ensure that public lands are being “managed for the benefit of the people” and in an environmentally responsible way. The considerations the Interior is taking to ensure the production is done in an environmentally-responsible manner remain unclear. As President Trump often states, “We’ll see what happens.”

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