We Hope You Don’t Need This: Four Leave No Trace Essentials to Getting Outside During a Government Shutdown

Congress is in crisis mode again, trying to avoid the impending shutdown of the federal government, set to occur on October 1st at 12:01 a.m. What does this mean for federal lands like those managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and others? First, some parks and their facilities will be closed. Many others will be minimally staffed, and visitors may be unaware that normal services are suspended — there are often too many entry points to place enough information signs.

In the event of a shutdown, it’s largely up to the public to protect our shared natural areas. With limited staffing, services like bathroom maintenance, trash pick-ups, and even emergency support will likely be unavailable. The impending shutdown means that our responsibility to reduce our impacts is of the utmost importance.

1.Consider Pivoting Away From Federal Lands
During a government shutdown, 85% of federal land managers can be furloughed, meaning these lands are often overused and understaffed, rescue services are limited, and maintenance continues to be deferred. Instead, consider rerouting and planning your upcoming outings to available state, county, and local parks.

2. Plan Ahead and Be Informed
Before embarking on your outdoor adventure, make sure you have information about the current status of parks and public lands. Government shutdowns can lead to partial or full closures of these areas. Check reliable sources like official park websites, social media, and local news for the most up-to-date information. Planning ahead will help you avoid closed areas and find alternative outdoor destinations that are open and accessible.

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3. Plan to Pack Out All of Your Trash, and Have a Bathroom Strategy
Plan to take your waste with you. Government shutdowns may result in limited or suspended services, including trash collection in parks and locked bathroom facilities. Be prepared to pack out all of your trash and bring it back home with you so that adjacent communities are not stressed by the influx of trash. Bathrooms may or may not be available during the shutdown period, so it’s best to prepare for the not-available scenario. Use any available restroom you can find before heading into a park. If you do need to use the bathroom while out exploring, catholes, wag bags, or other disposable bags for human waste are a responsible option. Bring additional containers and bags, and plan to pack everything out with you.

4. Be Conscious of Giving Wildlife Space
Wildlife can be particularly vulnerable during a shutdown. The lack of human presence might make wildlife more comfortable traveling through areas with a human-heavy presence. Give wildlife a wide berth, as always, and ensure not to overfill trash cans as they may not be emptied during a shutdown period, creating dangerous situations for animals. Feeding wildlife can disrupt their natural behaviors, harm their health, and lead to the dangerous habit of wildlife becoming too comfortable in human presence. When in doubt, use the thumb trick to ensure you’re not too close.

Your personal responsibility in the outdoors is heightened when park resources are limited. Leave No Trace will continue to provide information as new developments unfold.

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