Moab is the seat of two national parks, a Bureau of Land Management office which manages 1.8 million acres, two U.S. Geologic Service offices, and a Forest Service office. Collectively, the federal government is one of the biggest employers in Grand County and undeniably the most powerful economic force in Southeast Utah.
Sustainable recreation, resource extraction, grazing and wildlife rely on science to inform evidence-based management. The women and men who work in scientific fields directly for the federal government or who use federal lands and resources for non-governmental science work care deeply about their work, the benefits they provide to community, contributing to the scientific cannon, and the public generally. This government shutdown, as other shutdowns have in the past, comes at a significant and radiating economic and social cost.
The implications of the ongoing partial government shutdown on science is substantial and irrevocable. Even a few days of missing data can have big and lasting impacts on continuous, long-term or time sensitive studies. Opportunities for collaborations, conferences and grant applications — all necessary for science advancement and dissemination — are being delayed or cancelled. Permits for research or regulatory science can’t be issued. The natural and cultural resources land managers are tasked with protecting are, without doubt, being adversely affected, vandalized, or lost without federal employees and volunteers monitoring them or teaching visitors respectful stewardship focused practices.
The partial shutdown is preventing government agencies from hiring new personnel needed for the fast approaching spring season, a time when agencies typically staff visitors centers, campgrounds, and science based projects. Many federal programs may be unable to operate at full staff this year. Similarly, some scientific projects may be cancelled altogether. A large portion of federal budgets require allocated funds to be spent within a specified period of time. If not used during that timeframe, that money, which was hard won, is lost.
Southeast Utah is a mecca of science. We value the people who work to advance science here. We value the government agencies that facilitate, promote and regard scientific qualities and resources here. One has to wonder though, in the third week of this shutdown, the third in 12 months, can the people who do governmental science sustain themselves with this kind of professional volatility? We are the beneficiaries of the good work of well-respected, hardworking, thoughtful scientists who work for and with federal agencies. Without the best minds working to understand our federal lands and resources and the pressing problems we face, our ability to manage and adapt suffers, and so do we. Yet each shutdown is a setback to effective and objective land and resource management.
Undoubtedly, many federal employees across the country are looking for new positions that offer them better professional security. Science is a fundamental and integral part of federal government functioning. More can and should be done to prevent government shutdowns and their radiating impacts.
As citizens, we have a responsibility to the government that works for us. To our elected officials: stand up for the women and men who do such good and important work in science, and all avenues of effective, safe, and beneficial government functioning. Uninterrupted funding matters.
Hannah Russell is an archaeologist based in Moab and the co-leader of 500 Women Scientists, Southeast Utah. She has a master’s degree in anthropology and is especially interested in big picture landscape science and management.