Those hiking the Appalachian Trail this year are surely thankful that the United States government shutdown didn’t last longer, as it would have prevented them from legally traversing 101 miles of the legendary footpath in the Shenandoah National Park. While we’re happy that some of the potential impacts of the shutdown were averted when Trump finally caved under political pressure, the fiasco had a number of other consequences (and sadly, more may be looming in the near future).
Researcher and ecologist Jeff Atkins has been diligently collecting water samples from streams within Shenandoah National Park for an awe-inspiring eight years. All of his commitment was for science. The Trump shutdown prevented him from continuing his work. That was the case beginning on December 22 of last year.
The shutdown was one big middle finger in the direction of the 40-year-old scientific undertaking, which was a large scale and long-term study meant to monitor wetland recovery after acid rain poisoned the environment decades ago.
Atkins was notably angry about the shutdown. “It’s very frustrating to have this needless disruption,” he said. “This is the biggest gap we’ve had.”
He wasn’t the only one whose work was interrupted because of Trump’s imaginary immigration concerns. Literally tens of thousands of other scientists and researchers felt the effects of the shutdown. At least a half-dozen government agencies and organizations that pave the way for research funding or scientific advancement found themselves without the resources or legal backing to continue their work.
Agencies that were affected include the NSF, USDA, NASA, and the NOAA.
Not only were these agencies unable to continue their work, but many whose paychecks come from the government went without pay until the shutdown ended. They weren’t even legally allowed to check their email! This restriction meant that organizations couldn’t coordinate upcoming events, many of which had to be cancelled.
Shenandoah wasn’t the only park that was damaged by the shutdown. Joshua Tree National Park may take centuries to fully recover from the damage done by people who were allowed in after officials decided to keep the park open (government employees weren’t allowed to do their jobs, which meant there was no cleanup during the shutdown). When it ended, rangers reported that the remains of at least 100 campfires in prohibited zones were found. $1 million in revenue was lost, but that wouldn’t even come close to paying for the damage that was done.
Without a new deal in place, another shutdown could come as soon as October 1, 2019 (and probably will).