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How Will A Government Shutdown Affect Public Lands?

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
File photo. Mount Rainier National Park was closed for 16 days in October 2013--the last time the federal government partially shut down.

Uncertainty reigns about which federal public lands will be open and which closed if the congressional budget standoff leads to a partial government shutdown Friday night.

Closed national parks and forest campgrounds were among the most visible effects the last time the federal government partially shut down in October 2013. This time around, Trump administration spokespeople say they want public lands to remain as accessible as possible.

But each preserve will have to figure out which facilities can stay open safely without staffing. Details are hard to come by right now.

Lack of snow plowing may render the subject moot at places like Mount Rainier and Crater Lake National Parks.

"In the event of a shutdown, national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures," Olympic National Park spokesperson Penny Wagner said by email. "For example, this means that roads that have already been open will remain open (think snow removal) and vault toilets (wilderness type restrooms) will remain open. However services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds and full service restrooms, will not be operating."

"As a general rule, if a facility or area is locked or secured during non-business hours (buildings, gated parking lots, etc.) it should be locked or secured for the duration of the shutdown," read the shutdown contingency plan distributed to individual park units from the National Park Service headquarters office.

Civilian workers at Northwest military bases are another potentially affected category as are workers supervising environmental cleanup sites, based on the track record of previous federal shutdowns.

A lot of federal workers you might rely on are exempt during any shutdown. Airport security screeners will report to work. So will air traffic controllers. The U.S. Mail keeps delivering. The National Weather Service will keep forecasting and federal prison guards stay on the job.

While expected to work, some of these federal employees won't be paid until the shutdown is over. That proved to be a hardship last time around because the 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.