Chronicling the Shutdown

Monday saw the return to regular work of furloughed employees and those working without pay across federal agencies. Those roughly 380,000 furloughed and 420,000 working without pay Federal workers (and an unclear number of contractors) endured a 35-day pay suspension during the political battle over President Trump’s campaign pledge to construct a contiguous wall along the Mexican border. Unfortunately, unpaid bills and economic hardships are only part of the damage from this cessation of the routine business of government during the longest such shutdown in history. Since the December 22, 2018 onset, a host of unintended environmental, policy, and science consequences have metastasized while we shuttered nearly a quarter of our government.

We have only a partial sense of some of the impacts, but those hints are deeply concerning for environmental professionals and those interested in efficient and effective governance. While we have known for some time the obvious fact that walls fragment habitat and put sensitive species at risk, the magnitude and diversity of the degradation from this closure may turn out to be unprecedented. While keeping protected areas open without stewardship or oversight was a no brainer, murmurings and our own experiences are raising deep fears that this closure may have a disturbingly long legacy. Right now, those speculations are just that: speculation.

Measuring the Impact

Rather than deal with anecdote or innuendo, our Pirate Lab has set out to document consequences of this shutdown ourselves. While we are most familiar with discrete, place-based impacts to protected areas such as our National Parks (e.g. people need to poop) and Marine Protected Areas, (e.g. some of the world’s largest MPAs had a single employee for the past month) we are interested in assessing impacts to natural resource management and federal science more generally. We are doing so with an anonymous survey of folks inside and outside the government.

Our survey is now live, the results of which will be published here after we close data collection (likely after the first week in February, although this will be dependent upon when responses begin to dry up). Please consider taking it by clicking HERE or on the image below.

Check back here in mid February for the results of our survey!

In Progress Responses

Brief updates and insights will be posted here as they come in.

Day 1

We have had a somewhat slow start on the first day of the survey. Something like 90% of our outreach emails to colleagues in the federal government bounced back with an “I’m furloughed and can’t respond to email” the first day. Happily, those autoresponders on the second day of our entreaties have started to ping back with “Please be patient while I get through 35 days of unread emails and voice mails” or the equivalent. So far, our initial feedback has been concentrated (as you might imagine given our campus’ location) in southern California:

Initial heatmap of the locations of reported impacts of the 35-day partial government shutdown as reported to our Shutdown Impacts Survey. Data from survey Day 1.

Day 4

We are starting to get some good response and better geographic coverage.

Day 4’s heatmap of the locations of reported impacts of the 35-day partial government shutdown as reported to our Shutdown Impacts Survey.

While still preliminary at this point, the vague and undefined picture emerging from our responses suggests the most consistent impacts of the shutdown appear to be centered around timeline delays, the cessation of data collection, and damage to ecological resources. We are getting reports of damage to offshore infrastructure, illegal operation of drones, and deaths of animals during the closure. Also of note is the comparatively minor, but nevertheless disturbing, reports of entire projects being abandoned due to the closure (rather than a mere “pause” during the closure) and potentially illegal activities that were allowed to proceed unchecked.

Please keep sharing the link to our survey with your colleagues and networks and help us continue to bring these impacts into better focus.

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