Utah’s GOP congressmen request emergency action on national parks amid shutdown

Images courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In the face of a continuing partial government shutdown, Utah’s Republican congressmen are calling on the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement measures to resume operations at the state’s five national parks, particularly those in Southern Utah.

Utah’s U.S. Reps. Chris Stewart, Rob Bishop and John Curtis meet with previous Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at Zion National Park, Sept. 24, 2018 | File photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

U.S. House Reps. Chris Stewart, Rob Bishop and John Curtis sent a letter to the department’s acting secretary, David Bernhardt, requesting a provision in a law governing spending during shutdowns be invoked to put the parks’ staff back to work.

In the letter, the representatives expressed appreciation to the department for allowing the parks to remain open despite a shutdown that’s entering its third week.

“We believe, however, the Administration has the authority to do more,” the letter reads.

They write that the law prohibiting government agencies from conducting “general operations” during shutdowns is flexible in that it allows an exemption for “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

“We believe, in the case of these national parks, public safety and property are at heightened risk, and therefore merit this exception,” the letter states.

Emergency crews tend to a a man who was injured while hiking in a slot canyon in Zion National Park, Utah, July 3, 2017 | File photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Citing the hundreds of emergency incidents park rangers and search and rescue crews respond to each year, the representatives say they are particularly concerned about Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Southern Utah. While some Utah parks see a decrease in visitation during the winter months, that isn’t the case with Zion, which can still get as many as 11,000 visitors per day.

“Only a skeleton crew is left to protect and serve these thousands of visitors,” the letter reads.

That bare-bones crew is being supported by limited, temporary funding pledged by the city of St. George, Washington County, the Utah Office of Tourism and the nonprofit Zion Forever Project.

Read more: St. George pledges money to keep Zion open during persistent shutdown 

“These entities all have limits on their resources and the State has yet to be reimbursed for their financial investment in the parks during a previous government shutdown,” the letter states, referring to the more than $1 million the state provided to keep the parks operational during part of the weekslong shutdown in October 2013.

That shutdown had a devastating effect on visitor spending in communities surrounding national parks, particularly in Utah, where millions of dollars were estimated to have been lost over the course of 16 days, according to a report by the Department of the Interior.

Read more: 2013 National Parks Shutdown: Interior reports $414M overall losses 

The congressmen are thus asking the department to invoke the exception allowed by the law governing spending during shutdowns and immediately take measures to resume operations “to the fullest extent allowable under the law.”

As of Saturday afternoon, the Department of the Interior has yet to publicly respond to the letter.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • tazzman January 5, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    With all due respect to Congressman Bishop, et.al, maybe you should have pushed harder to fully fund the LWCF and the Interior Dept and push the POTUS to make sure he funded the NPS before stopping further funding over the wall? The wall and other DHS funding should be its own debate but YOU guys failed to provide the necessary leadership to ensure our parks and Interior had the necessary funding to remain open.

    You only have yourselves to blame.

  • NorthwesternWildcats January 5, 2019 at 8:06 pm

    Don’t do anything for the parks until the cry baby gop ends the shut down. They approved a budget until the biggest baby threw a tantrum and now it’s at a stalemate. I hope those affected that are either aren’t working or foolishly working for free remember this the next election cycle.

    • iceplant January 6, 2019 at 7:34 am

      Agreed. The onus for this absurd shutdown falls squarely on the GOP and big baby Donnie.

    • tazzman January 6, 2019 at 11:06 am

      Federal workers are prohibited from volunteering during a funding gap under the Federal Employees Deficiency Act. NPS employees cannot volunteer and work for free.

  • Mike P January 6, 2019 at 9:42 am

    What benefit is there to us (local taxpayers) for keeping these national parks open for awhile? What are we getting for our money? Maybe some of the local businesses surrounding these parks are seeing a reduction in tourist related revenue and some park workers might skip a paycheck or two but these are all federal responsibilities that we currently pay into. I don’t believe our “local” taxes should be used for this purpose.

    • iceplant January 6, 2019 at 11:17 am

      No benefit to this shutdown for anyone. Everyone loses.
      Other than Drumpf’s base who seem to think this is somehow a ‘good’ thing.
      Too them, this is how it should be. Fascism is ugly.

      • Mike P January 6, 2019 at 2:43 pm

        Don’t know why or how my post turned into more Trump bashing, but o.k. I just wanted to know what benefit it was to us local taxpayers to keep the parks open

        • Comment January 6, 2019 at 3:59 pm

          You get nothing personally, mike p. The world can’t always revolve around you. The park brings in enough tax revenue to the local area that they must feel like it’s a good investment–they’ll get more back than they put in…

        • iceplant January 6, 2019 at 5:14 pm

          Not bashing. Just pointing out facts to keep this in perspective. Carry on.

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