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Contact: Abby Wines, 760-786-3221
DEATH VALLEY, CA – A week after the longest government shutdown on record ended, services are back to normal in Death Valley National Park. Park staff are still assessing the government shutdown’s impacts, but preliminary reports of human waste, trash, vandalism, and impacts to wildlife are disturbing.
All visitor services have resumed in the first week after the government shutdown. Ranger-guided programs are offered at least three times per day. Wildrose Campground opened on January 30. Furnace Creek Campground, Texas Springs Campground, and Mesquite Springs Campground opened on January 31.
While some staff reopened the park, others spent over 1,500 person-hours documenting, cleaning, and repairing damage from the extended government shutdown.
“The shutdown couldn’t have happened at a busier time for Death Valley. Our visitation always skyrockets over Christmas and New Years,” said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “For weeks we had no authority under the Anti-Deficiency Act to spend money to provide visitor services. People tried to do the right thing by leaving trash next to full dumpsters, but wind and animals dispersed it. The park’s resources, visitors, and wildlife all paid the price.”
Park rangers have noticed three coyotes and two bobcats approaching humans for food recently. “We think their behavior was changed by the food scraps they got from trash,” said Reynolds.
One coyote regularly faked an injury to beg for food. The canine often stopped traffic in the middle of a blind curve, which created a dangerous situation. Park rangers killed the coyote because of the traffic hazard and concerns that its lack of fear of humans would soon turn to aggression. “We tried hazing it,” said Reynolds, “But it learned to identify NPS vehicles. I hated authorizing this, but was the only way to keep the public safe.”
In addition to trash, human waste also caused problems.
After the federal government’s funding lapsed on December 22, the National Park Service was only authorized to protect human safety and property. There was no funding to clean, stock, or pump vault toilets. The park left vault toilets accessible until they became too unsanitary to use. At that point, necessity caused even well-intentioned people to damage the park. According to Reynolds, park staff cleaned up at least 1,665 clumps of toilet paper and 429 piles of human feces. “And that’s an incomplete figure,” he added. “We only counted in a few areas. We estimate there was at least half a ton of human waste deposited outside restrooms.”