Visiting BLM Lands During a Government Shutdown: Your Guide to Responsible Recreation

Conservation Lands Foundation
|September 29, 2023

As we approach the possibility of a government shutdown, it's important for us to understand the potential consequences. A government shutdown will temporarily halt non-essential government services, place government employees on furlough, and have tremendous impacts on public lands. Let's examine how Bureau of Land Management lands will be impacted and how you can safely and responsibly visit public lands. 

Bureau of Land Management lands will remain open during a government shutdown
Photo: Black Canyon National Recreation Trail, Arizona by Leslie Kehmeier

Public Land Impacts

During the 2019 government shutdown, the effects on public lands and national parks were keenly felt. With many national parks closed, visitors sought alternative outdoor destinations, including Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, leading to a surge in usage and environmental impact. In response to these challenges, many Friends groups had to step in to provide additional resources for essential tasks like trash pickup, bathroom cleaning, and ensuring visitor safety. This illustrates the crucial role played by community organizations in safeguarding these cherished natural areas year-round, especially in times of emergency.

What You Can Do on BLM Lands

To provide clarity and guidance during government shutdowns, the BLM has established a contingency plan that outlines what will happen to BLM operations, facilities, and services in the event of a government shutdown.

Access to Public Lands: During a government shutdown, BLM lands will remain open to the public. This means you can continue to access these lands for recreational activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and more. Efforts will be made to post signs, as appropriate, to indicate where services are or are not available.

Campgrounds and other Recreation Sites: Campgrounds, boat ramps, and other recreation sites will be open, however, at some facilities the full range of services may not be available including restrooms and water systems. In cases where funds are not available to maintain such services, signs will be posted but visitors may remain at these sites at their own risk.

Existing Reservations: If you have already made reservations for camping or other recreational activities on BLM lands, those reservations will generally be honored. However, it's crucial to check for any updates or changes on the BLM's website and seek out local resources.

Law Enforcement: Law enforcement activities on BLM lands, including patrolling and ensuring public safety, will continue during a shutdown. If you encounter any issues or need assistance, you can still rely on BLM law enforcement officers.

Emergency Services: Emergency services, such as search and rescue operations, will also remain operational on BLM lands. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, do not hesitate to call for help. Please note that many BLM lands are in areas without any cell service - plan accordingly. 

Many BLM visitor centers will be closed to the public during a government shutdown.
Photo: BLM Utah

Impacted Services

Visitor Centers and Facilities: During a government shutdown, BLM visitor centers, campgrounds, and other facilities that require staffing may be closed. This means you won't have access to services like restrooms, visitor information, or permits.

Reservations: A lapse in funding may impact reservations and travel plans. If customers have an existing reservation during this lapse of funding period, and the location is not fully staffed, the reservation may not be honored. Check with your local BLM office for more information. 

Permits and Special Use Authorizations: If you require special permits or authorizations for activities on BLM lands, such as filming, research, or commercial operations, the processing of these permits may be delayed during a government shutdown.

Resource Management and Maintenance: Non-essential resource management and maintenance activities, such as trail maintenance and habitat restoration, may be temporarily halted.

Respect. Connect. Protect.

During a government shutdown, as you visit BLM lands, it's crucial to remember the principles of "Respect. Connect. Protect." which emphasizes safe, responsible, and respectful outdoor recreation to ensure we all take care of these lands we love and need.

  1. Respect: When you visit, respect for nature’s unpredictability needs to be top of mind. Please come prepared, especially during a government shutdown where services will be limited, and treat these lands with respect. Stay on designated trails, avoid disturbing wildlife, and respect closures and regulations. 
  2. Connect: Use your time on BLM lands to connect with nature, yourself, and others. When you visit public lands, you have a unique opportunity to connect with yourselves, with each other, and with the history and meaning of the land itself. 
  3. Protect: Protect the environment and the experience of others by minimizing your impact. Leave no trace of your visit—pack out all trash, including pet waste, as there won't be any trash collection services. Additionally, bring essential supplies such as water, toilet paper, emergency supplies, and food. With restrooms closed, be prepared to dispose of human waste responsibly using proper disposal bags or equipment.

Your Actions Matter

In the event of a government shutdown, it's important to be aware of impacts on Bureau of Land Management lands. While you can still enjoy many recreational activities on public lands, most services and facilities will be limited or unavailable. By understanding what you can and cannot do on BLM lands during a government shutdown and by following the "Respect. Connect. Protect." principles, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience while minimizing your impact on these precious public lands. Together, we can help preserve these natural treasures for future generations.

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About Conservation Lands Foundation
We’re the only nonprofit leading a national movement of community-based advocates who care for America’s NATIONAL CONSERVATION LANDS of natural, historical, cultural and recreational significance.
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    Conservation Lands Foundation published this page in Latest News 2023-09-29 11:03:23 -0600
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