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Reports Of Unlawful Activity At National Parks During Government Shutdown Causes Concern

Julia Ritchey

Drones were brought into Gettysburg. A pregnant elk was poached in Zion National Park. And in Yellowstone, commercial snowmobile tour guides encouraged other riders to pass the legal boundary and get up close to the geyser, Old Faithful.

During the brief government shutdown in January, Department of the Interior’s Secretary Ryan Zinke kept parks open without staffing. But an advocacy group is now pointing out several illegal activities took place during that time. 

Center for Western Priorities’ Aaron Weiss said the Yellowstone snowmobilers could have fallen through the crust or caused permanent damage to the area’s unique geothermal features. He said, hopefully, there’s no shutdown coming again anytime soon. 

"But if the government does shut down again, we hope that Secretary Zinke realizes he made a very dangerous mistake last time and reconsiders his decision to keep the gates open," said Weiss. 

Weiss said the previous Interior Department Secretary opted to keep parks closed during the 2013 shutdown, citing potential risk to the areas. A long-term government spending bill has yet to be reached. 

This piece was produced as part of the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism consortium of six public radio stations in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

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