US Shutdown: Federal Lands to Reopen if States Foot the Bill


On October 1 nearly every national park and federally-owned wildlife refuge in the United States shut their gates, and thousands of government employees were placed on furlough. Federal officials said on October 10 that these areas could be reopened—if state governments agreed to pay for the expense. According to USA Today, Interior Secretary Sally Jewel told Utah officials that she is willing to consider agreements that would reopen closed national parks and other areas if states fully fund these facilities until the end of the shutdown.

October is a peak month for tourism and hunting across the country. The closing of over 400 national parks and 561 wildlife refuges has put a damper on many planned trips this October, and it goes far beyond just affecting tourists. While hikers, campers, hunters, and anglers are among the first to feel the impact of shutdown, the communities and businesses that depend on these federal lands have the most to lose. From little fishing towns to hunting outfitters and hotels, many say their livelihoods are threatened by the shutdown. Fishing guides that fished the Everglades were barred from the park while elsewhere in Colorado, hunters are being called to turn in tags they have waited years for. Furloughed National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service employees are also worried about their paychecks, calling for end to the shutdown so they can get back to work.

For at least some employees, that is possible now. The office of Utah Govenor Gary Herbert announced on October 10 that five of the state’s national parks and other closed federal areas would be reopening, and their staff taken off furlough. For up to 10 days, their salaries and all the other costs of running these areas will be paid for by the state. The agreement between Herbert and Jewel will take $1.67 million out of the state’s coffers, which comes to $166,572 a day. To Herbert, it is necessary for the many families that depend on the areas being open. Interior Secretary Jewel indicated that the parks could begin reopening within 24 hours of receiving funds from Utah.

“Utah’s national parks are the backbone of many rural economies and hard-working Utahns are paying a heavy price for this shutdown,” Governor Herbert said in a statement. “I commend Secretary Jewell for being open to Utah’s solution, and the world should know Utah is open for business and visitors are welcome.”

If the shutdown ends before the 10 days, the state will receive a refund of the funds sent to the NPS pending congressional approval. Much of the $1.67 million comes from the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

The governors of several other states—including Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska—are also speaking with Jewel about the possibility of reopening federal lands. However, some lawmakers say that fully funding these areas may not be a viable solution.

“The requirement to ‘fully fund National Park Service personnel’ is an arbitrary and costly burden forced on these governors to, once again, maximize the political pain of the National Park Service’s own decisions,” said Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Utah officials say that the benefits are more than worth the price. The state’s popular Zion National Park may cost $50,000 a day to run, but a week-and-a-half of closure has already cost the local economy $3.5 million.

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