Friday, December 21, 2018

What Happens to the Parks and Plants During a Federal Government Shutdown?


Looking at the recent past, each Federal Government shutdown is unique. Some have been partial and had limited impact, while others affected every department. Some have extended for weeks and other were basically overnight. In this current one, a quarter of the government will cease operation at midnight tonight. That "quarter" includes the Departments of the Interior (Parks) and Agriculture (USDA). 

According to the Washington Post, "Many national parks would be accessible to the public, for example, as they were during a brief shutdown last January, but their visitor centers and restrooms would be closed and there would be no trash collection or park rangers on duty. Historical homes and areas of parks where roads cannot be plowed would be closed. Roads and trails and open-air memorials would stay open."

The Smithsonian's museums and gardens (including the National Zoo) will remain open for this current shutdown until January 1. "After January 1, officials plan to reevaluate the situation," writes Beth Py-Lieberman of Smithsonian Magazine. "In January 2018, a similar shutdown threat occurred, and Smithsonian officials used 'available prior-year appropriations' for the lapse period to allow museums to continue operating and fund staffing for security and other significant positions throughout the museums and across the Institution."

Should those funds run out, there is a back-up plan. Barbara Faust of Director of Smithsonian Gardens said, "When the government is closed down, we have a skeleton crew that takes care of the gardens, greenhouses, etc. We also have one supervisor on duty each day. Typically staffing levels are equal to our weekend duty roster. We do have about four staff members who are paid from trust (private) funds, so they are able to work a normal work schedule. When it snows, we bring in as many people as we need to handle the response to weather conditions."

The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) announced, "The U.S. Botanic Garden is open through the holiday season as scheduled.Devin Dotson, USBG's Public Affairs and Exhibits Specialist said, "Our plant collections are cared for year-round by our dedicated employees in horticulture and operations. Our plans ensure care for both plants and facilities even during times when we are not open to the public." (Note that the USBG is under the the Architect of the Capitol and is not a part of the Smithsonian system, as some assume from its location on the National Mall.)
   Update: Devin said that the USBG is "funded for the fiscal year - through end of September 2019."

The US National Arboretum (USNA) located in NE Washington, DC, is under the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. It is CLOSED for the Federal Shutdown period. A veteran USNA staffer commented that during a shutdown, "There is a small list of essential employees who check the greenhouse systems and check water in all the greenhouses as well as monitor the bonsai collection. Luckily. most of the checking and watering for us can happen within 2-3 hours per day."

The DC Government is stepping in and will collect litter for the 125+ National Park Service (NPS) properties within the city's boundaries. In related news, "Washington's Mayor Muriel Bowser has given an extra $900,000 to increase rat control efforts."
If needed, the city will also plow snow on NPS maintained roadways, such as those within Rock Creek Park.


We will update this page as further details are released on these closings.

UPDATE 1: It is now January 1 and the Smithsonian has announced they will close indefinitely starting January 2. This includes the National Zoo, gardens and grounds, as well as all their museums.


UPDATE 2:  There are still-open public gardens like Hillwood, Dumbarton Oaks (not on Mondays though), Brookside Gardens, Green Spring Gardens, Mount Vernon, etc. to visit. Note that Tudor Place is closed for all of January for annual cleaning.


UPDATE 3: Citizen volunteer groups are forming to keep the National Mall and Federal parks within the city clean.


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