The government shutdown has received plenty of press. We all know the ways in which it’s related to the Affordable Care Act. We all understand the parts played by Republicans and Democrats alike. And we all realize that the longer the government remains shut down, the more vulnerable are the indigent, the very young, and the very old.
There is talk as well of the impact that the government shutdown is having in the financial sectors. No one will be surprised to see a plummet in the stock market on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. And the longer the government remains shut down, the more volatile the situation will become. With Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit the to White House on September 30, 2013, the keener journalists have finally begun to pay attention to world affairs, recognizing that our government is not just a vehicle for domestic policy, but that it has a foreign interest as well.
What has not reached the front pages, and what is not likely to reach the front pages, is the long-lasting impact that this shutdown will have on America’s natural resources. Yes, many states have a Department of Natural Resources. But no state alone can coordinate the complex network of ecosystems and habitats that have been entrusted to the Department of Interior.
In the interests of full disclosure, let me say here that I am a government contractor, and my largest client is the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. However, I have been paid for all outstanding services, and I continue to earn income from other business ventures. So this article is not being written from a petty pecuniary interest on my part.
Instead, it is derived from two sources: (1) my deep and abiding respect for the work ethic that I have encountered among Fish and Wildlife Service employees, and (2) the mission that they work to uphold, which is “to conserve, protect, and enhance plants, animals, and other wildlife for the continuing benefit of the American people.”
I have worked with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service since 2007. And I am appalled at the caricature of the government employee that I continue to encounter. I’m sorry if you have ever had a bad experience at the DMV. But I can assure you that the biologists, the civil engineers, the educators, and the regulators that I have encountered at the Fish and Wildlife Service are among the most dedicated, the most intelligent, and the most compassionate people I have ever known.
These are people who come to work early. They stay late. They labor in small cubicles in windowless offices. They spend most of their time on the phone or the computer gathering data about a species or a habitat that is threatened or endangered so that they can preserve it for our benefit.
With the sequester earlier this year, they are already doing the work of 2 and sometimes 3 people. And despite the fact that they are demoralized by the difficult work conditions and the often overwhelming nature of their task, they continue to not only complete their work but to actively seek out ways in which they can excel at their jobs.
We as a nation decided that our land is valuable. We determined together that large swathes of it needed to be set aside as parks so that we could have places of retreat and repose. We understand the value that nature offers to our minds, our hearts, and our souls. Now those parks sit empty, unkempt, and for how long?
Likewise, we determined as a people that certain habitats, ecosystems, and the plants and wildlife sustained thereon deserve to be preserved and protected for the future. The National Wildlife Refuge System was created to uphold this ideal.
These lands are vital to the health of our planet. As their name suggests, they provide refuge for the millions of migratory birds that are now making their arduous and treacherous voyage across the Northern Hemisphere and into Central America. We are obligated by a Migratory Bird Treaty Act to do everything in our power to protect these defenseless animals. Yet we are not funding these refuges.
As hunting season approaches, who will ensure that the game populations are both managed and protected? Wetlands, swamps, and forests are now left to seep brackish water into vulnerable roots. The danger of wildfire looms. And the government remains closed.
Finally, our threatened and endangered species are in greater peril as every day goes by. The system that we have in place is already hard-pressed to maintain the deadlines established by the Endangered Species Act. It is uncertain whether the courts will see the government shutdown as a viable excuse for violating the timelines provided by the Act. Regardless, any delay in implementation will have untold implications for an endangered species such as the bull trout or the whooping crane.
Obviously, if a developer can’t apply for, let alone receive, a permit regarding the Northern Spotted Owl, his project goes on hold, and the entire community suffers as a result. But what happens when the shut down continues and neither the red knot nor the horseshoe crab can be listed in a timely fashion? Will we stand by and watch as these species disappear from our planet?
We the American people have entrusted our government with a broad range of responsibilities. Representatives, Senators: you have breached the faith. I implore you, whatever your political differences, uphold the trust of the American people. Preserve those resources that we have placed in your care. And as you continue the debate, please remember, all that is lost cannot be recovered.