Monday, April 6, 2020
Note to Crowds: GO HOME. Sincerely, Parks and Wildlife Refuges
The screenshot above is from a conversation I had with a veterinarian friend three weeks ago. It was part of a group discussion about whether the advisories surrounding COVID-19 were exaggerated.
His response: No.
"When we get diseases like this in veterinary medicine, we start culling entire herds."
The key takeaway from the experience of the 1918 influenza pandemic by the world's leading historian on the topic is simple: Tell the Truth.
The truth is that park rangers and conservation officers across the nation, local, state and federal need you to GO HOME.
As a journalist who grew up in rural Idaho and now writes from Montana put it, This Pandemic is Not Your Vacation.
It also won't last forever, but for now: go home.
Then, stay there.
The game wardens, park rangers and conservation officers responsible for protecting you, wildlife and the land are getting mixed messages from their bosses, higher government officials, and the public.
They're being told they are not to approach visitors within 6 feet without complete PPE (N95 mask, gloves, and eye pro), both for their safety and for yours.
The catch is they haven't been issued that gear.
Gloves and a pair of aviators won't cut it, and everyone knows they're not going to just stand by and watch while crimes are committed or visitors get hurt.
The public is getting mixed messages from officials too--go outside! Stay 6 feet apart! We've waived entry fees!
We're open! We're closed!
What's really going on?
Some of the biggest, most glamorous parks are closed- Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the like.
At state and federal levels,most of the rest are "open".
What's the catch?
The catch is what's really not open: visitor centers.
Parking lots. Bathrooms. Restaurants.
The catch is that 'non-essential' staff has been furloughed, or are teleworking.
The catch is that where bathrooms are open, they're being cleaned by the rangers and officers without appropriate PPE, or worse, by volunteers.
The few bathrooms available are often primitive vault toilets without handwashing facilities, and the truth of a novel virus is that no one has yet ruled out a fecal-oral transmission route (ew).
The catch is that crowds converging on parks and refuges without visitor centers are parking on beaches, hiking off trail in sensitive environments during breeding seasons, and overcrowding trails too narrow to allow for safe social distancing.
The catch is that visitors in parks without bathrooms are pooping in the woods like bears, only leaving behind blooms of toilet paper laden with microbes capable of transmitting disease to humans.
That's not love of the Great Outdoors.
Buy your park passes. Get the sunscreen, camera and boots ready.
Familiarize yourself with the Big 6 of our wild places.
And stay home till this passes.
I never intended to become Radio Free America for rural cops, but here I am one more time saying what they can't without getting fired: their hands are tied.
They're frustrated, their working conditions are growing less safe by the day, and they can't keep you safe this way either.