As a Government Shutdown Looms, Fat Bear Week Hangs in the Balance

A shutdown will affect all national park operations, likely including the beloved annual event.

The government shutdown will take place on October 1, unless there are-last minute funding agreements made in the House and the Senate this evening or into the weekend. If Congress fails to come to a decision, all non-essential employees will be furloughed, while essential government workers will be kept on without pay. That is becoming more likely as a last-ditch short-term funding effort failed to pass on Friday.

Earlier this week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Thrillist how travelers will be impacted by a government shutdown. But, it won't just be air travel that will be affected. The country's national parks are also federally funded. A shutdown will mean that many of the parks will be closed to the public until the government resumes functioning. Not only that, but the national treasure that is Fat Bear Week could also be canceled if the government shuts down.

According to ABC News, the bears at Alaska's Katmai National Park might not get their digital faceoff between October 4 and October 10 as planned. Government agencies are not allowed to update social media pages or websites during government shutdowns. This affects everything from the National Archives to, potentially, Fat Bear Week.

The actual voting for Fat Bear Week takes place on the website—but it's unclear how the voting would be promoted if not on National Park Service social media pages. The NPS, for its part, hasn't said one way or the other what will happen if the government shuts down. NPS workers at Katmai National Park are also responsible for monitoring the progress of the bears' weight gain ahead of winter. If those workers are on furlough, no one will be around to report on the bears' progress, according to The Hill.

The popular Fat Bear Week event isn't the only national parks casualty expected during the shutdown.

Some national parks will shut down

The Department of the Interior shared in a statement on Friday that at "NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed."

"The public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety," the statement continued. Because national parks vary widely in size, the staffing changes will be felt differently at every park. For NPS sites that aren't able to close off to the public, like park roads, lookouts, trails, campgrounds, and open-air memorials, those will remain open to the public.

There are 425 national park sites that are federally managed. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, across all parks, the NPS could lose one million visitors per day, and gateway communities that depend on NPS visitors could lose $70 million each day. The last time the government shutdown in 2018, parks were still accessed by the public, which lead to lasting damage at some parks.

"NPCA strongly supports closure of all parks in the event of a shutdown until an agreement can be reached to fund the government, including the National Park Service," the NPCA outlined in a post on September 26. "As unfortunate as that would be, it is the only way to protect the health and safety of park visitors and wildlife and the integrity of our most precious natural and cultural resources."

NPS hasn't provided an exact list of which parks will be completely shuttered. Some states have announced that they will use other sources of funding to keep national parks open. These states include Arizona and Utah. Governors of both states have announced plans to keep parks open, according to the Associated Press. These states include some of the country's most popular parks, including:

  • Zion National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Monument Valley
  • Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Governors in South Dakota and Colorado have also announced that they are considering using state funds to keep national parks open. Meanwhile, in California, all national parks in the state will close during the shutdown.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.