January 5, 2019 3:10 pm

3 people have died in U.S. national parks since the government shutdown began

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Three people have died in U.S. national parks since the government shutdown began on Dec. 22.

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The three deaths happened over a seven-day period starting on Christmas Eve and were all due to accidents or falls, the Washington Post reports.

On Christmas Eve, a 14-year-old girl fell 700 feet down a canyon at Glen Canyon National Park in Arizona. A helicopter wasn’t able to recover her body until the next morning, NBC reports.

On Christmas Day, a man died after falling into a river and suffering a head injury at Yosemite National Park in California.

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Government spokesperson Andrew Munoz said the investigation is taking longer than usual because of the partial government shutdown, and the park didn’t send a press release about the death because of the shutdown as well.

The third death happened Dec. 29 at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee when a tree was knocked down by high winds and hit 42-year-old Laila Jiwani.

On average, about six deaths happen per week across the park system, National Park Service spokesperson Jeremy Barnum told the Washington Post.

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National parks have remained open with less staff during the shutdown, and the Park Service estimates up to 16,000 of its 19,000-person workforce is furloughed due to the shutdown, the Post reports.

In January 2018, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke decided to keep national parks as accessible as possible in the event of a shutdown.

It was a change of policy from the two previous shutdowns in 1995 and 2013 under former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama respectively. They both had parks closed to visitors to protect their safety, but Obama received criticism from Republicans for closing the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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Parks were open during the last three-day shutdown.

People have been rushing to the parks to take advantage of the lack of entrance fees, but this has resulted in a build-up of trash and human waste, a potential hazard.

Diane Regas, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land, wrote a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday, urging him to close parks to “protect the health and safety of park visitors and to protect park resources.”

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“Millions of people visit national parks every year, and the federal government has a responsibility to care for their health and safety,” Regas wrote. “Hundreds of people suffer injuries in national parks every year, and operating the parks without search and rescue staff is also unacceptable.”

The shutdown has entered its third week.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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