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UVA Today - University of Virginia

U.S. government shutdown starts to take a bite out of science

Rattlesnakes, bears, hurricanes, and freezing weather haven’t stopped ecologist Jeff Atkins from taking weekly hikes into Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park for the past 8 years to collect water samples from remote streams. But Atkins is now facing an insurmountable obstacle: the partial shutdown of the U.S. government, in its third week.

Park managers have barred Atkins from entering since 22 December 2018, when Congress and President Donald Trump failed to agree on a deal to fund about one-quarter of the federal government, including the National Park Service. That has shut down the sampling, part of a 40-year-old effort to monitor how the streams are recovering from the acid rain that poisoned them in past decades.

“It’s very frustrating to have this needless disruption” in what is one of the park system’s longest continuous data sets, says Atkins, a postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “This is the biggest [sampling] gap we’ve had. … Now, there is always going to be this hole.”

Atkins is one of tens of thousands of U.S. scientists feeling the pain caused by the shutdown, which resulted after Congress refused to give Trump the $5.7 billion he wants for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The impasse has all but halted work at more than a half-dozen agencies that fund or conduct research, including NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and parts of the Smithsonian Institution.

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