Government

Don't Tie Tragic National Park Deaths to the Government Shutdown

Some news outlets have insinuated that the government shutdown is to blame for several tragic deaths. Statistics say otherwise.

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|||Tracy Barbutes/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Tracy Barbutes/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Several people have died in national parks since the government shutdown began. These deaths are tragic. Yet, several news outlets have insinuated that President Trump's prompting of the shutdown is somehow related. Statistics, however, show that it is disingenuous to link these deaths so closely to the shutdown.

A partial shutdown began in the days leading up to Christmas, spurned by Trump's insistence that Congress add $5 billion in spending for his border wall. Though national parks and memorials remained closed during shutdowns in past administrations (leading to heated debate during the Obama presidency), national parks have remained open this time around—though some have since made the decision to close.

A few days ago, outlets including NBC News and The Washington Post published articles insinuating that at least three deaths were due in some part to the government shutdown. Four additional deaths were cited, but officials believe them to be suicides. The articles cited a 14-year-old girl who fell to her death at Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona, a man who died from injuries related to a fall at Yosemite National Park in California, and a woman killed by a falling tree at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which borders North Carolina and Tennessee.

The articles pointed to difficulties faced by emergency personnel in reaching some of the bodies. As for the direct impact that the shutdown had on the deaths, however, the articles barely touched on a connection. The Post, for example, wrote, "the deaths follow a decision by Trump administration officials to leave the scenic—but sometimes deadly—parks open even as the Interior Department has halted most of its operations." NBC noted that the National Park Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment about such a correlation. Quotes from park officials, meanwhile, merely mentioned not having sufficient rangers to warn or guide visitors, the inconvenience of not having restroom maintenance, and needing crews to fix the roads before the summer season.

Following these reports, CNN released an article with quotes from Mike Litterst, who is the acting chief spokesperson of the National Park Service and its chief of public affairs. According to Litterst, an average of six deaths occur per week at national parks. The causes of such deaths, Litterst explained, include accidents as well as medical incidents, such as heart attacks. Furthermore, the number of average weekly deaths pales in comparison to the millions of weekly visitors to the parks. While there is a possibility that a lack of government employees or government funds may have played a part in some of the deaths that occurred since the shutdown began, it is just as likely, statistically speaking, that these deaths would have occured in any given week.

To the Post's credit, the six-death figure is cited in its report. Before giving too much credit, however, the figure does not appear until the third paragraph of the nearly 1,700-word article.

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  1. Lefties HATE that Trump did it again with “n”th D Chess and left National Parks open.

    Before, the bureaucrats were hoping to inconvenience Americans as much as possible to put pressure on Congress and the President to end the federal shutdown.

    This is another sad media Hail Mary.

    1. I’ve lost count of how many stories I’ve heard on NPR over the past couple weeks about how hard the shutdown is on government contract workers. They’re really digging to find some kind of emotional hook. (And I listen to NPR for only about 10 mins. each day.)

      1. Having been a federal contract worker during the Obama shutdown, they are exactly right. While the civil servants have a nice vacation with backpay, federal contract workers (who do most of the actual work) were not getting paid.

        My problem with the shutdown is that it’s an utter waste of money. The civil servants are getting paid, and we aren’t getting the benefits of their working. It’s a lose-lose situation.

  2. You mean the grizzlies aren’t running wild killing folks in West Yellowstone and the poachers haven’t shot all the bison and elk in the Lamar Valley? Geez, maybe the thin veneer of civilization is holding up pretty well with the government “shut down?”

    1. The griz are all sitting around drinking beer, since they are off duty.

      1. Probably even shitting on toilets like normal people.

  3. This had nothing to do with the shutdown.

    http://www.ajc.com/news/nation…..FFlWw0TqK/

    1. Officials on an Arizona Department of Public Safety Air Rescue helicopter later found the girl’s body about 700 feet below the overlook, deputies said.

      Due to impending nightfall, authorities were unable to recover her body until Tuesday morning.

      Not to blame the shutdown, but “just leave the body till morning” certainly doesn’t sound like a rescue team getting paid top dollar.

      Maybe I’m biased from all the coverage of Baby Jessica.

      1. No, that’s just good reasoning. A dead body can wait. Lowering the risk for rescue personnel has nothing to do with pay scale (many are volunteers).

        1. No, that’s just good reasoning. A dead body can wait.

          If it were unfavorable conditions in a remote location, I might agree, but the unfavorable condition is darkness and the remote location is a tourist attraction.

          Maybe I’m just unfamiliar with the Southwest and you can leave a body outside and expect it to be there in the morning but everywhere I’ve been, unless you sat and watched the body overnight things would come in the night to molest or take it. And despite that and other risks retrievals happen at night.

          Again, I don’t mean to be insulting to the efforts of volunteers and I’m not exceedingly sympathetic, a dead body is a dead body. It just seems odd that in the age of electric cars and LED lights ‘darkness’ is a sufficient excuse to call off… anything.

          1. Helicopter operations at night next to a cliff?

            Nope.

          2. Click through to the article for a picture of the location. She was in a river canyon 700 feet down. It is relatively wide but there is zero need for any unnecessary risk.

            1. Helicopter operations at night next to a cliff?

              Nope.

              Click through to the article for a picture of the location. She was in a river canyon 700 feet down. It is relatively wide but there is zero need for any unnecessary risk.

              I’ve traveled several hundred vertical feet in the dark without a helicopter. Of course, the places where I did so a helicopter couldn’t land even in broad daylight. If it was dark, how did the helicopter spot her body? If a river runs through the middle of it, how is a helicopter the only means of retrieval?

              Searching for a lost hiker in the deep woods of the Northern US? “It got dark.” makes sense even if the hiker is still alive. But “It got dark.” while knowing exactly where the hiker is (in the relatively open and landmarked terrain of the Southwest)? Not so much. Especially if they may not be there at light. I understand that I wasn’t there to experience the conditions and I assume there are places in the desert where, if a body fell, you could count on it to be there a week or even a month later. Still, “It got dark.” sounds like the wrong explanation and/or a dumb excuse.

              1. “If a river runs through the middle of it, how is a helicopter the only means of retrieval?”

                You are joking, right?

                ‘River’ does not imply ‘navigable.’ Or are you envisioning a whitewater rescue crew working at night to retrieve someone who will still be there, and no more dead at dawn?

                1. And as to the issue of scavengers – a freshly dead person still smells like a living person, so is not likely to immediately attract critters looking for a feast. Not saying it’s impossible, just that it’s unlikely.

                  And it sure as Hell is not a reason to risk life and limb.

                  1. ‘River’ does not imply ‘navigable.’ Or are you envisioning a whitewater rescue crew working at night to retrieve someone who will still be there, and no more dead at dawn?

                    Considering that it’s dammed less than 5 mi. upstream, there are no features apparent from the lookout, and the boat launch at Lee’s Ferry is 5 mi. downstream, no, I’m thinking anything between powered zodiak and gentle canoe ride to retrieve a body around dusk. Even then, the situation would be “Conditions were unfavorable to effect a rescue/retrieval.” not “It got dark.”

                    1. The Glen Canyon Float Trip

                      offers the most fantastic one day rafting trip anywhere on the mighty Colorado River. These half-day and full day tours are perfect for the entire family (kids aged 4 and up).

                      Departing from the scenic town of Page, Arizona, your trip will begin with an exciting and exclusive ride down the two-mile long Glen Canyon Dam access tunnel. At river level, Glen Canyon Dam soars 700 feet above you, where you will board a comfortable pontoon raft for your journey downstream. For the next 3 hours, you will experience one of the most placid, yet dramatic stretches of river in the western United States. Your experienced guide will tell the story of the area’s soaring sandstone cliffs, crystal blue-green waters, abundant wildlife, exploration by Major John Wesley Powell and others. You will learn more about the river’s modern role in the Southwest’s water and power delivery system.

                      An incredibly treacherous journey for children 3 and under during the day and pretty much anyone at night.

                    2. Again, they’re volunteers, if they think a body will be there in the morning, it’s their call. I sure as hell couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t fly out there and secure a boat to get there before they would the next morning, especially for a dead body. It just seems like “Welp! Sun’s going down!” is the wrong answer. Reading the details further it sounds more like the body was somewhat precariously positioned was more of what prevented retrieval. I can understand not wanting to rock climb or not being able to do so effectively in the dark.

        2. Back when I lived next to Glacier NP there were multiple instances I can remember of a living victim being left on site until the morning, one was a park ranger with a fractured femur (caught in a scree slide.) Yes, she had people with her.

          When the risks of added harm are that much greater then everyone waits.

  4. So the number of deaths decreased once the contributing factor of incompetent government help was lessened. No surprise there.

  5. >>>average of six deaths occur per week at national parks

    don’t feed the bears.

    1. Vast majority are traffic accidents, drownings are a distant second.

  6. The ring around the bathtub? Trump!

  7. Yes!!! The parks are DEADLY!!! Stay away!!!

    Now maybe I can have a more peaceful, idiot-free visit next time.

  8. I say blame those deaths on ICE!

  9. This from the same woman who’s all about blaming the government for the deaths of children despite their “guardians” either dragging them through the desert for days without water or actively refusing medical attention.

    Maybe if it’s not their fault then it’s not their fault and you’d have some semblance of credibility if you were consistent in that and your articles weren’t a transparent means of social signaling.

  10. Four additional deaths were cited, but officials believe them to be suicides.

    We’re currently adrift with the Engine of America currently shut down, and you don’t think the suicides are a result of the very real despair every patriotic American feels over the dark shroud that has enveloped our Nation’s Capital?

  11. BUT TRUMP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Just for comparison: Murders in Chicago (pop ~2.6 million)…

    2018 – 415 (8.03/ week)
    2017 – 520 (10.00/ week)
    2016 – 716 (14.32/ week)

    1. The stat I actually went for when Mrs. Casual was scared to hike up Angel’s Landing: IDOT Traffic Fatalities

      2018 – 1047 (20.13/week)
      2017 – 1090 (20.96/week)
      2016 – 1078 (20.73/week)

      I blame the shutdown for only 8 fatalities in the first week of 2019.

      1. 20+y ago My sister gave me a book called ‘Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park’, paperback, 1995, documentary, by Lee H. Whittlesey (has been updated 2013?). I first thought what a morbid and depressing sounding book… It was actually fascinating and unforgettable. I gave it away and replaced it gave it away many times. Made the experience better when I finally made it there. Later she gave me another one called ‘Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon’ by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers. Interesting.

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  14. Take a selfie and fall off a cliff? Sounds a lot more attributable to vanity combined with idiocy than a government shutdown.

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  16. Having been a federal contract worker during the Obama shutdown, they are exactly right. While the civil servants have a nice vacation with backpay, federal contract workers (who do most of the actual work) were not getting paid.

    My problem with the shutdown is that it’s an utter waste of money. The civil servants are getting paid, and we aren’t getting the benefits of their working. It’s a lose-lose situation.

  17. Having been a federal contract worker during the Obama shutdown, they are exactly right. While the civil servants have a nice vacation with backpay, federal contract workers (who do most of the actual work) were not getting paid.

    My problem with the shutdown is that it’s an utter waste of money. The civil servants are getting paid, and we aren’t getting the benefits of their working. It’s a lose-lose situation.

  18. I’m earning more than $ 7k a month working part time. I kept listening to other people who tell me how much money they can earn online, so I decided to investigate it. Well, it is what everything is true and totally changed my life.

  19. What’s really interesting about the effects on the NP’s is how the Sierra Club, EarthFirst, and the rest of the environmentalists aren’t lifting a finger – other than their collective middle ones – to voluntarily police and clean up the messes made by those who use the parks now. But, considering the filth they left behind in the Dakotas when “peacefully protesting” the pipeline a few years ago, it’s no surprise.
    What’s needed is for the Tea Partiers to come in. They consistently cleaned up after their rallies and always left the premises in much better shape than they found them.

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