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We can all agree to be angry that our national parks and memorials are closed to the public while the government sorts out its issues. But in the heat of the moment, some have forgotten who it is, exactly, that we should be mad at.
Here’s a hint: It’s not the people who are just doing their jobs. Yet the past couple of weeks have seen instances like this one, in which NBC captured a video of Randy Neugebauer, R-Tex., telling a park ranger she should be ashamed of herself for blocking off the World War II memorial.
George Durkee, president of the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police — the union representing most of the law enforcement officers employed by the National Park Service — posted an open letter to the public asking us to stop shooting the messenger. “Closing national parks is against our nature,” he wrote, speaking on behalf of all rangers. However, he continued, “We will carry on with this miserable, thankless, and pay-less task denying public access to parks” for the duration of the shutdown.
Here’s Durkee’s letter, in full:
In recent days, media coverage regarding the actions of NPS rangers has been less than flattering. The image of a United States Congressman yelling at a Park Ranger — doing her job as she was directed — was shameful.
Park Rangers are being assigned tasks that, at minimum, are an inconvenience to the public and that often deprive the public of their access to Federal lands and facilities.
Closing National Parks is against our nature. The reason we became Park Rangers and love our profession is because we enjoy welcoming people from around the world to our national treasures, and providing for safe and enjoyable visits to these sites, while leaving them protected for future generations.
However, there is a law governing government shutdowns, the Anti-Deficiency Act. Over the decades, multiple administrations have implemented closures under this law. We are unaware of any injunction or other court-issued document that has ever overturned the government’s authority in these matters. For those who believe they have standing, we urge you to seek legal remedies in court if you believe NPS actions to close park facilities to be illegal. Life would be much easier for us if the parks were open.
Without any contrary court findings or changes in the law, we will carry on with this miserable, thankless, and pay-less task denying public access to parks during the government shutdown. Although our actions too often make sensational news stories and fodder for pundits — they are supported by precedent and legal guidance from government lawyers, under laws we are sworn to enforce.
Instead of being angry with the messengers, we hope the public complains loudly and often to their elected representatives who caused this mess — it’s not the National Park Service or the rangers and employees, who are always here to serve the public. This situation was preventable, and should be fixed. The same holds true of those in the media who sensationalize and incorrectly report on our actions, blaming those who enforce the law rather than advocating for needed changes in the laws. The American people and our international visitors deserve better.
We hope that in the aftermath of this, laws are put in place to eliminate such closures.
Joseph de Maistre wrote, ‘Every nation gets the government it deserves.’ We hope you contact your elected officials and those in the media and express your opinion so we don’t have to go through this nonsense in the future.
Ranger Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Lindsay Abrams.