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Damage Is Piling Up At National Parks But The Comms Office Isn't Talking

Photo of Joshua Tree entrance sign.
National Parks Service
Some of the namesake trees within Joshua Tree National Park have been damaged during the partial government shutdown, but the park's superintendent was unable to comment to media organizations.

As the partial government shutdown stretches toward a third week, both the public and public employees alike are feeling the pain. But there’s another casualty: public information.

The shutdown is making it harder for journalists to speak with senior National Park Service employees.

“During the lapse in appropriations, we are generally unable to accommodate interview requests except in cases of public safety, emergencies, etc.,” Jeremy Barnum, spokesperson for the National Park Service, wrote in an email.

More than 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed for more than two weeks due to a lapse in appropriations. While the National Park Service has recently begun paying for basic maintenance services in some parks using old entrance fee funds, many rules and regulations aren’t being enforced to the same degree.

Parts of Joshua Tree National Park in southern California recently suffered damage from off-road vehicles and from visitors defacing the park’s namesake trees.

But superintendent David Smith declined to commentin a story about it with media outlet E&E News, saying any questions would need to go to a communications office in Washington D.C. instead.

A 2012 guidance issued by the U.S. Interior Department under the Obama administration states that media requests “that have the potential to generate significant media coverage, public interest or inquiry” must be forwarded to D.C.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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