Trickle-down effect of the federal shutdown


Tuesday morning at the High Country News office began with a flurry of Twitter messages from federal agencies as they entered a social media blackout. Until some undetermined future, it will be radio silence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EPA, NASA and the National Science Foundation. Websites will not be updated; apparently in an effort to avoid spreading misinformation, the National Park Service, BLM and Census Bureau simply took down their sites. In addition to breaks in communication, many government services are coming to a lurching halt.

The shutdown is making it difficult for us and other journalists to do our jobs, since we often rely on federal sources for information. Here’s a look at the shutdown's impact on some of the government agencies most important to Westerners.

Kings Canyon National Park blocks access as it, and all the national parks, close during the federal shutdown.

Tourism Economics

The Department of the Interior is one of the hardest hit agencies, furloughing 81 percent of its employees. The DOI oversees the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs, to name a few.

Across the country, 401 national parks, monuments and historic sites are closed. Campers at Yosemite were given 48 hours to pack up and go. School groups planning a field trip to the Washington Monument and hunters and anglers preparing to head to certain BLM lands will have to change their plans.

It’s a bummer for visitors, and a revenue loss for the government. The National Park Service will lose about $450,000 each day from entrance fees, cave tours, boat rides and camping that won’t be happening. But it’s not just the loss in park revenue that will hurt. Communities around the parks that cater to tourism will collectively lose about $76 million per day.

For communities hammered with summer setbacks, the government shutdown hits at a particularly bad time. As Yosemite National Park evacuated visitors this summer during the Rim Fire, bordering communities watched tourism plummet. Shortly after, Estes Park, which borders Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, experienced the same thing during the September floods. In both regions, this fall could have been prime time to recover some economic losses, but with the major public attractions closed, visitors will likely vacation somewhere else.

The last federal shutdown, in 1995, sparked fury in people who lost access to the national parks and caused “long-term damage” to gateway communities.

Whether or not FEMA will continue work and funding for Colorado’s post-flood cleanup is a question that has some Front Range residents worried. Vice President Joe Biden has promised that relief aid would keep flowing, and FEMA workers are still on the ground, but it’s thin assurance. Governor Hinkenlooper announced on Tuesday that the state would kick in emergency funds to keep National Guard to fill in any federal gaps.

Science and Research

Most scientific research funded by the federal government is being suspended. From environmental data being collected on public lands to health initiatives covered by the National Institutes of Health, projects are on hold, which could have some significant impacts for continuity of data.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has six research sites that collect air samples to measure greenhouse gases. According to Nature, those samples will continue to be collected, but the scientists in Boulder, Colo. who make sense of the samples were sent home.

Medical research, disease tracking and environmental surveys are some of the science projects on hold during the shutdown.

And just like NOAA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shuttered a lot of their research. Now is not the time to get the flu or come home with a tropical disease. The CDC is suspending influenza tracking – just as flu season begins – and won’t be available for research on emerging infectious diseases.

Even if the research isn’t paid for by the federal government or conducted by a federal agency, many people rely on government-supplied data. But, one of the Fed’s initiatives toward open and transparent government, is down. Applications and research using the information are accordingly offline. Journalists looking for census data, health statistics or food stamp expenditures will have trouble finding the information.


America’s Native communities are impacted as well and in ways that worry tribal leaders. Many tribal communities struggle with poverty and live on the edge of subsistence, says Edward Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in Indian Country Today. Reductions in the federal services and funding members rely on will have an acute, “devastating” effect on tribes.

Statements from Washington D.C. say that services central to human health and safety will keep running. But in the face of a prolonged shutdown, the Indian Health Services would be able to provide only the most urgent medical care. Meanwhile, tribal colleges and head start programs will suffer, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly told The Daily Times.

The impacts of the government shutdown are drastic and immediate, both for “non-essential” government employees and their families, and for communities and research that depend on federal funding. The impacts will also continue to show up in more insidious ways with gaps in research monitoring and development, links to data that are temporarily down, and all the myriad problems created when an "open" government closes its doors.

Katie Mast is an editorial intern at High Country News. Photo of Kings Canyon courtesy National Parks Conservation Association. Image of researcher courtesy National Institutes of Health Library.

Rusty Austin
Rusty Austin Subscriber
Oct 03, 2013 06:26 PM
At long last, will HCN finally tell the truth, it's the Republicans that are 100 percent responsible? It's ironic too because most of the gateway communities are overwhelmingly red.
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Oct 06, 2013 09:07 PM
Its sad but many Republicans would care less if these programs ended.
Melinda Hirsch
Melinda Hirsch
Oct 08, 2013 02:20 PM
They ARE overwhelmingly red, but the locals have a blind hatred of the federal government. Boehner is the ONLY one who can bring a bill to the House. He can't do his job and needs to be bumped.
Rita Gibbs
Rita Gibbs
Oct 08, 2013 02:30 PM
Mom and pop businesses in so many towns are being hurt by this insanity. Springdale Utah, Page AZ, Williams/Flagstaff AZ, Torrey, Kanab, Bryce Utah. The list goes on and on. Ruined my camping plans with my son but some folks have much bigger problems!
Jim Vance
Jim Vance
Oct 08, 2013 02:58 PM
My hiking buddy and I had a Grand Canyon permit for another backcountry trip off the North Rim that was to have begun on Oct. 5th, but NPS cancelled it on the 2nd -- when I called the Jacob Lake Inn to cancel our lodging reservation for the night of our ascent out, they said they had received over 500 cancellations because of the shutdown and closure of the Park. While the North Rim concession and campgrounds at the Village were going to close for the season on Oct. 15th, there are still a lot of visitors until snow closes the main highway and USFS roads, and those are tourist $$$ they simply won't have as part of their annual revenue. I can't imagine what the impact must be on that business, or the much larger tourist economy of businesses at the South Rim gateways in Tusayan and Cameron. Absolutely no positive feelings in my household for Boehner, Cruz or the other neofascist idiots which have hijacked the Republican Party.
chuck dunn
chuck dunn
Oct 08, 2013 03:08 PM
Stewart Farley
Stewart Farley Subscriber
Oct 08, 2013 05:18 PM
Gosh! Who ya gonna vote for next time?
Tom Schweich
Tom Schweich
Oct 08, 2013 05:22 PM
Forest Service campgrounds in the eastern Sierra were all emptied and locked by Saturday. All the outhouses were signed to warn the potential user that there would be no maintenance (t.p.) while the US Dept of Agriculture was shut down. There was a lone ranger stationed at the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park telling all drivers not to stop anywhere in the park ... for any reason! Lots of Law Enforcement vehicles in evidence. Threats to cite anyone who stopped.
Oct 08, 2013 05:29 PM
Hello Readers. I'm a retired FS and NPS employee, and in my frustration I generated this quick and dirty projection of the potential scope of these chronic cuts and interruptions. Forgive the hasty style. I'm angry. It amazes me that reporters have to scrounge and grovel and leak documents to bring forward a story about how spending slashes will ultimately affect public land use. Think of all the small timber sales, post and poles, firewood permitting and theft, skiing, hunting, interagency wildlife management and emergency rescue contributions, camping, christmas trees, grazing permits, keeping roads and trails clear of blowdown and washouts, streams open, student and formal agency research and outreach, Lubrecht Yellow Bay and other experimental stations, outhouses and campgrounds clean, vandalism and trash trash trash. Without a public employee presence we can expect a massive influx of petroleum combustion recreation, target practice, poaching, Rainbow and Burning Man festivities every weekend and a general invasion of squatters. And of course: the fires. An this is all just off the top of my head. As time goes on, this will all become more apparent.

I believe the military habit of keeping hush pervades civil government service too, and not without reason - it's functional in its own way, but it's crippling us now. But none of us FS, NPS, BLM F&W Dept of Ag, etc, can say what is really at stake as the sequester, shutdown debt ceiling arguments grind on. The effects will be at times glaring, but often insidious.
Thank you for your dedicated work Mr. Chaney

K Johnson
John W Stephens
John W Stephens Subscriber
Oct 09, 2013 08:48 PM
It bothers me that the feds close public lands during the shutdown, as if they owned them. They do not. 'nuff said.
Helen Stiehl
Helen Stiehl
Oct 10, 2013 01:20 AM
One Party faces fiscal facts while the other just points fingers. If the other Party worked toward long-term fiscal solutions for the benefit of the People instead of playing the political advantage game for the benefit of the Party, maybe there would be a productive discussion. Instead, our fearless leader fosters divisiveness and ignores the Good of the Country. I had hoped for better things.
Daniel Watts
Daniel Watts Subscriber
Oct 16, 2013 02:41 PM
All I know is that I could visit the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial this weekend in southern Indiana. Thanks Congress, you have stymied my enriching consumption of our nation's history.
William V McConnell
William V McConnell Subscriber
Oct 18, 2013 10:21 AM
 The shutdown should erase any doubts about the need for a change in the management of our public lands. The feds have long ago proven themselves incapable of rational management of the timber resources, now they've shown they can't handle recreation. Transfer of selected federal lands to the states or to locally managed Trusts seems to be the only solution to the tangled web of incompetence that now makes federal management a hopeless cause.
Lee Graves
Lee Graves
Oct 21, 2013 05:25 PM
How are the two sides going to reconcile when one side says he will not negotiate on any issue? Both sides are ultimately at fault here.