Government Shutdown: States Fight to Re-Open ParksBy: Lacy Langley - October 8, 2013
One of the major and very visible effects of the government shutdown of last week has been the closing of national parks. Well, not everyone is taking it lying down. Despite the order from the National Park Service (NPS) to close down nature, Wisconsin Governer Scott Walker is not letting that happen.
Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources decided instead, that parks only partially funded by the federal government should stay open and run on state money. Federal funding only amounts to about 18% of the funding for the parks affected.
Wisconsin has also decided to not fully follow a Fish and Wildlife agency’s directive that hunting and fishing be prohibited on federal lands during the shutdown. Hunting access would be allowed in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, state officials said.
Walker directed his cabinet to “streamline things and make sure services are available,” Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said, who has spoken with him directly. “It was his direction that let me pursue this further to find out what rights do we have from the state’s perspective regarding contract language and long-standing agreements, and is there something that we’re legally grounded to do.
In the wake of the government shutdown a week ago, barricades were put up at a boat launch on the Mississippi River in the state, because the river ran through federal land. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources came behind and took them down.
“We respect the magnitude of the process the federal government has had to undertake to close its properties and certain activities on properties they own and manage,” Cathy Stepp told department employees in an email obtained by The Hill.
“However, after close review and legal consult, DNR has clarified areas where the federal procedures are over-reaching by ordering the closure of properties where the state has management authority through existing agreements.”
The boat launch was “the easiest, glaring example of the over-reach to me,” Stepp said in a phone interview to The Hill Friday. “In essence, what they were doing is expecting us to enforce closing the Mississippi River. First of all how do you even implement something as gigantic as that?”
However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the federal government turned down Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s offer to privately and state fund the re-opening of parts of the Grand Canyon for tourists to keep the economy from crashing in nearby towns that need the park to stay afloat.
They also quashed Republican South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s offer to keep the Mount Rushmore National Memorial open with state workers. The National Park Service told state officials that it was required to use federal employees, not state employees, at the monument, and that opening Mount Rushmore would set a precedent to open the other federal parks.
“It makes sense for the federal government to shut things down because there isn’t funding available, but it doesn’t make sense to close something because they are trying to make a point,” said Tony Venhuizen, a spokesman for the governor. “Our offer still stands if there is a change of heart on the part of federal officials. We certainly would be pleased to talk to them if they seem interested.”
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