I took away some unexpected encouragement from the two-week federal government shutdown that just ended. Headlines from the very first day of the shutdown focused on how frustrated people were to be barred from our National Parks, Wilderness areas, and other federal lands. I didn't hear near as much about Americans missing other government services.
The portrait of the government shutdown was a boater unable to dip an oar on the Colorado River after waiting years for a permit; or a field trip of school kids turned away from Crater Lake National Park, learning about Congressional dysfunction rather than the geology of volcanoes.
This is encouraging because it shows how much Americans (and foreign visitors) appreciate and value our public lands. These lands differentiate us from other countries. We plan our vacations around them. And, sadly, we sometimes take them for granted.
Members of Congress have introduced nearly 20 bills that would protect special places on our public lands. Like most pieces of legislation in this Congress, these bills are moving glacially or not at all. Once the dust settles on the embarrassing government shutdown, our elected officials should find areas of common ground, and work from there to repair the damage caused by hyper-partisanship. The outcry that accompanied the shutdown shows that conservation of our public lands can be that common ground. Congress and the Obama Administration should protect more public lands, and relish a new outcry of appreciation.