As he shouldered his hiking gear and listened to his guide describe the impact humans have on natural landscapes, Tim Ascher’s gaze landed on the stagnant waters of the Everglades. He had been to dozens of national parks, and by this point was well-versed on the public land management curriculum—his students could attest to that— but this trip was different.
The trash receptacles overflowed with weeks’ worth of trash, and a random food truck pulled up to serve an unsolicited lunch menu, showing a once well-regulated and preserved ecosystem now turned wild and unrestricted.
As he listened to his guide’s snippets of facts and stories about the park, Ascher’s thoughts were on the dedicated students he taught every day, and the passion they have about this line of work. He imagined them going weeks on end without a single paycheck.
The prolonged partial government shutdown sparked a slew of uncertainties for students at The Ohio State University planning projects and positions with federally funded agencies like the National Park Service.
As a lecturer, Ascher teaches for the School of Environment and Natural Resources in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Ascher has taught the management of public lands for six years at Ohio State, and many of his students share his love and enthusiasm for national parks.
Having previously worked for the federal Forestry Service, Ascher visits national parks regularly, his love for wildlife extending into his private tree nursery.
Preparing for the Worst
The shutdown has forced Joanna Edge, a graduating senior in natural resource management and forestry , fisheries, and wildlife, and her classmates, to look into new skillsets. Edge dreams of working in the National Park Service. For her, working for the service would mean she would have to be prepared for another shutdown.
For those working in national parks, this means being prepared to take on another job temporarily.
“A lot of us are just trying to get out of that wildlife bubble… we want to have enough skills to go to other places, just in case,” Edge said.
The income of the average employee in the National Park Service is not high, and a second missed paycheck could be detrimental to the lifestyle of the employees. According to Ascher, “no one is rich in the National Park Service.”
“no one is rich in the National Park Service.”
The government shutdown resulted in unmanaged national parks and public lands. Thousands were not paid for the first 35 days of the shutdown.
People who work to maintain and preserve these spaces were not showing up to work. Trash began to pile up, restrooms were not cleared out and no one was available to enforce safety and preservation regulations.
In response to the issues that arose in the national parks and public land areas, Ascher is changing his course curriculum to incorporate circumstantial possibilities like a government shutdown.
“I’m taking out a full lecture and replacing it with the changing face of public land management, and this shut down has forced my hand on that a little bit. I feel like the students need to know that this is more of a reality than it used to be,” Ascher said.
“I’m taking out a full lecture and replacing it with the changing face of public land management... I feel like the students need to know that this is more of a reality than it used to be.”
In this new lecture, Ascher wants to focus on the ramifications government shutdowns can have on his students’ future careers. He plans to include his own experiences from his trip to the Everglades National Park during the shutdown.
Local Impact beyond Public Lands
Ascher described his trip to the Everglades as shocking and eye-opening. He spoke with locals about how the shutdown has affected their area and found out that a large part of the surrounding community was impacted as well.
“A lot of people don’t go to the Everglades when it’s a thousand degrees in the shade—mosquitos everywhere. They go in the winter. That is their busy season. So, for local outfitters that supply that area… that’s a large chunk of change that they’re not getting,” explained Ascher.
Shops that make a majority of their income from what is supposed to be peak tourism seasons are now being hit by the decrease in park attendance.
Tour guides spoke to Ascher about federally funded research projects being put on hold during this period. A month-long gap in research can be detrimental to projects- which have taken years to put together. Safety concerns of the visitors arise as well, since programs that relocate dangerous animals were not running. Animals such as ball pythons and alligators, were now invading popular hiking places.
These federally funded factors are going to be added to the course material for Ascher’s class.
For graduating seniors, the job application process starts long before graduation. Students who graduated in December faced the real possibility of their new federally-funded position cut from funding.
“A lot of people graduated last semester as the shutdown was hitting—how does that influence someone coming right out of college?” Ascher asked with genuine concern, as nobody knows what exactly the future holds for students graduating in these areas.
Tierney Gannon, a graduating senior in fisheries, forestry, and wildlife, applied and interviewed for a park ranger position in the National Park Service—right before the shutdown began. The shutdown put a long pause on the process, and in the meantime, she accepted another job.
“It took so long to get a response from my interview that I interviewed for a different job and had already accepted it,” Gannon said.
With all of the current uncertainties in the field surrounding the government shutdown, Ascher said this is how he knows students working in those areas are dedicated to what they do.