Another state suffering from the loss of fall tourism has raised its voice, House members are seeking answers from the National Park Service, and a Democratic congressman is petitioning to halt the oil flowing out of park units. Those are just some of the topics involving shuttered national parks.
Utah Offers To Run National Parks
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has offered to have his state take over operations of the five national parks located within its borders.
In letter to President Barack Obama this week, the Republican formally asked that the national parks, national monuments, historic sites and recreation areas in Utah be reopened. The ongoing shutdown is "devastating individuals and businesses that rely on these areas for their livelihood."
If the president won't free up federal funds to maintain and operate Utah's national parks and monuments, Governor Herbert asked him to allow Utah to use state and private funds to re-open them to the public.
"It is within the power and authority of the Executive Branch to allow the national parks and monuments to be reopened. We have a solution in place. We just need, literally, the keys to the gates. I cannot overstate that time is of the essence," the Governor wrote.
The governor's actions come on the heels of several counties that border the parks asking for emergency declarations due to loss tourism dollars.
October is a peak month for tourism in many parts of Utah, as it is in many parts of the country. The economic impact of the federal government shutdown on the state is approximately $100 million, according to the governor's office.
House Republicans Want Park Service Answers
Some GOP members of the House of Representatives have scheduled a hearing into how the National Park Service shut down the park system. The Republicans maintain that the Park Service made the closure "as difficult as possible" on the public.
The hearing, in front of the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is set for next Wednesday, October 16. Among the issues to be examined at the hearing include what the Republicans call "the Obama Administration’s arbitrary and unnecessary actions to erect metal barricades around certain national parks, monuments and memorials in order to make the government shutdown as painful as possible."
“Across the country, Americans are deliberately being denied access to open-air memorials and national parks – places that are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These are sites that were not closed by the Clinton Administration during the last government shutdown. However, the Obama Administration appears determined to make their shutdown as difficult and painful as possible," charged Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. "They are forcing private businesses to close and are selectively choosing which high-profile sites to close off and which to keep open. One park ranger even said that they were directed to ‘make life as difficult for people as we can.’ This is shameful and wrong and we intend to hold the Obama Administration accountable for their actions."
Petition Demands Halt To Oil Production While Parks Are Closed
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, has started a petition drive demanding that oil and gas production from national park lands be halted while the parks are shuttered to the public.
The petition, which was approaching 80,000 signatures Wednesday evening, calls on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to "(S)top allowing mining, drilling and other dirty energy extraction activities on federally protected lands while visitors are locked out and employees are home without pay."
In explaining why this production should halt, the petition states that "(O)ur federal lands are being mined, drilled, logged and just about everything else you can name – but because of the Republicans’ reckless and irresponsible shutdown of the federal government, we can't be there to hike or camp, and our park rangers can't be there to respond to emergencies. We need to get our priorities straight."
"I just met a furloughed National Park Service employee the other day on my way to the Capitol. He told me he knows there are bigger issues at stake than his paycheck, and he wants us to stand up for our public lands and our democracy instead of giving away the store," Rep. Grijalva wrote in calling for support. "I'm asking you to tell Secretary Jewell and Secretary Vilsack the same.
"There are about 800,000 furloughed federal employees all over the country. National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and other land management experts are at home instead of tending to trails, eliminating invasive species and protecting our wild lands from pollution. While they wait for the shutdown to end, mining, drilling and logging are going ahead.
"Fossil fuel and logging companies shouldn't have special access to our federal lands while rangers, hikers and the rest of us are locked out. Sign my petition to Sally Jewell and Tom Vilsack today to say we expect the same treatment as mining and logging companies when it comes to public lands and resources that we, as Americans, own and protect for the future."