(And Why This Budget Crisis May Be Only the Beginning)
The federal government shutdown may have lasted only 16 days – this time – but its effects on birding and wildlife can last far longer. The deal passed October 16 is only a temporary measure, and it is entirely possible that a longer, more severe shutdown could occur within a few months. But while a short-term shutdown has relatively negligible effects, a longer budget crisis or deep budget cuts could have stronger, more devastating impacts on birds and birding. Understanding those effects can help birders plan for future shutdowns and changes to federal budgets that can impact birds and birding.
What Happens to Birding During a Shutdown?
There are obvious and not-so-obvious consequences to federal budget changes that close refuges and cancel funds from wildlife projects. Problems that arise when the federal government shuts down include…
- Closed Refuges: All federal public lands are closed during a shutdown, including national wildlife refuges, migratory bird refuges and other properties. Not only does this mean that birders cannot access the properties to enjoy birding, but there is no ongoing maintenance of the lands to remove invasive plants, monitor water levels, or create ideal nesting or feeding grounds. Programs and events are canceled, and there are no supervision or guide services available.
- Festivals Events Canceled: Many birding festivals incorporate visits to federal lands as part of their event schedules, but when those lands are not available, events must be canceled or changed. Many festivals will seek alternative options on state or private land, but if there are no options available, the festival's schedule can be greatly reduced.
- Protective Laws Unenforced: During a shutdown, there is no funding for laws protecting wildlife to be enforced, as these measures are typically considered a low priority. This means that poaching or illegal kills will not be investigated, and if the shutdown continues, critical evidence may be lost before investigations can resume. The same stalling applies to consideration of endangered species status and research necessary to help protect birds and wildlife, none of which can progress until suitable funds are designated.
- Studies Halted: When workers are furloughed, wildlife conservation officials, environmental scientists and federally-funded ornithologists do not have access to their data or resources to continue critical research that can better our understanding of birds' needs. Grant applications are put on hold and gaps in data after the project resumes could severely damage the outcome of a study, which may result in fewer protections for birds or major conservation setbacks.
What Birders Can Do
No birder has the budget to reopen national parks or support massive research studies, but once birders understand how the federal budget impacts birding, they can take steps to help and continue enjoying birds regardless of the federal government's condition.
- Visit state parks or local facilities for birding and raise awareness of the importance of avitourism to local budgets.
- Encourage state legislatures to take over funding federal properties if possible, so the facilities can reopen and conservation efforts can continue.
- Join birding organizations that encourage private efforts to preserve habitat and monitor birds, efforts that will continue regardless of the government's status.
- Be aware of how local legislators vote and what measures they support or deny during a crisis, and adjust your own voting to support officials who work to protect natural resources.
The birds may not notice a federal government shutdown, but birders certainly do. While it is possible to forgo birding for a few days or even a few weeks, understanding the impact of this shutdown and any that may occur when future budget deadlines are not met can help birders plan steps to help avert crises that can dramatically impact the welfare of birds and their habitats.