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Parks officials say a long shutdown could invite more vandalism, graffiti on public lands

An US Park Ranger sets up a sign announcing the closure of Joshua Tree National Park, in Joshua Tree, California, due to the government shutdown.
An US Park Ranger sets up a sign announcing the closure of Joshua Tree National Park, in Joshua Tree, California, due to the government shutdown.

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The National Park Services reported that vandals cut locks at two sites in the Santa Monica Mountains Friday night, after park officials limited access to the national recreation area due to a red flag warning. Signs at Rancho Sierra Vista in Newbury Park and Cheeseboro – Palo Comado Canyons in Agoura Hills noted the risk of fire. According to a written statement released by Superintendent David Szymanski, “it appears that the gates were vandalized in response to the Federal government shutdown.”

Twenty-six properties in the national parks system remain closed in California. As federal furloughs continue, conservationists have warned of the risk of environmental harm there, too.

RELATED: What have Calif. Congressional reps said about the shutdown?

As for the dozens of biological and ecological monitoring projects on shuttered federal lands – they’re shut down too.

“There’s no monitoring, there’s no biology happening during this time away, so really not only are we disconnecting communities from these important resources, we’re disconnecting scientists from the opportunity to do science and research,” says David Lamfrom, who runs California desert programs for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Most people drive past a ranger station to enter a national park, or enter a gate. You don’t have to do that at Mojave National Preserve, one of three national park sites in California’s desert. It’s the third largest unit in the National Park system, with 1-point-6 million acres of land.

Dennis Schramm was the first superintendent of the preserve nearly 20 years ago. During the last federal shutdown, he says the ecological health of the park suffered.

“You don’t have control of every road coming into the preserve and you don’t have enough eyes and ears out there,” Schramm says. “There’s cultural resources, natural resources. We’ve had cactus poaching in the past, deer poaching.”

During that last shutdown, parks employees at several sites in California also reported vandalism and graffiti to natural features, like rocks and canyon walls.

“We experienced gang assembly in some of the areas closest to Las Vegas, the vandalism just increased incredibly during those times,” says Alan O’Neill, who was park superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area during the previous government shutdown.

He expects park officials will return to similar problems this time around. “People are not happy,” he says. “And angry people do strange things.”