Shutdown is exposing larger problems within Yosemite, say experts

Thursday, January 10, 2019
Shutdown exposes larger problems within Yosemite
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Experts at UC Merced say with the lack of employees working, folks can now see the larger issues the national park's been facing for years.

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- In the days following the shutdown, Yosemite National Park quickly started seeing human waste and trash issues.

Along with those problems, UC Merced experts now say the shutdown highlights larger issues the park service has faced for years, mainly involving infrastructure and maintenance backlogs.

"It is about, basically, closing a city in the middle of the wilderness," says Public Lands & Protected Areas Assistant Professor Jeffrey Jenkins. "The Park Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of $11.6 billion. Yosemite's third on that list with an over 500 million dollar maintenance backlog. That's between roads not being maintained, buildings needing to be retrofitted."

Jenkins researches public lands and protected areas.

He says national parks were required to give visitors recreational opportunities while preserving the land. However, he says Yosemite is seeing more visitors than the park's infrastructure can handle.

"There are hotspots that exist, some places are more impacted than others, and while we've heard the park at large is being impacted by human waste and safety concerns with untimely deaths, this is nothing beyond the level that it sees in an average year," he says.

Recently, the National Park Service decided to dip into its funds for future projects to pay for clean-up operations and expanded services during the shutdown.

Jenkins says the park has been dealing with a lack of appropriated funds, but with hundreds of furloughed employees and closures, the issue is more apparent.

He also says the shutdown could also have an impact on the habituation of both people, and the animals inside the park.

"With trash bins overflowing, the bears and other animals will be habituated in finding food from human sources," he says.

Jenkins says while many of the park's problems are coming to light, the full scale of the shutdown's impact can't be determined until after the federal government reopens.

Jenkins says because the impact seems exponential and because of the deferred maintenance, the clean-up will be another issue.

He says it'll probably take the Park Service a long time to clean and repair areas impacted by the shutdown.