The U.S. government remains shut down, thanks to House Republicans’ refusal to fund the government without defunding the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, 401 national parks across the country are closed to tourists and vacationers, provoking “pretty livid” responses.
But the fact that the government and parks are closed hasn’t stopped Congress from holding hearings, including one Thursday in the House Natural Resources Committee on a bill that would force a fire sale of 3.3 million acres of public lands.
The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013 (H.R. 2657) from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) would mandate that public lands Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming to be sold off to the highest bidder as a way of reducing the deficit. The areas to be sold are based on an outdated report from 1997, although the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to “update” that report.
However, evidence shows not only that voters oppose selling off public lands, but that they are incredibly important economically. This is especially true for the state of Utah, which is losing $4.4 million every day because its five national parks are shutdown. Tourists and visitors to these parks are being turned away, and reports of the potentially devastating economic impacts are already coming in.
The manager of an lodge outside of Bryce Canyon National Park said “This such an important time for us … It’s going to kill us if this drags on”
Moab retailer Canyon Voyages Adventure Company has gotten “tons and tons of calls from visitors who have scheduled trips with us or aren’t sure if they can go” because Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are closed.
And The Deseret News reports that “Zion [National Park] expects to turn away 10,000 visitors a day during the government-imposed closure, costing $50,000 in daily revenue.”
Some of these disgruntled tourists have gone so far as to go on record blaming Republicans for the shutdown. For example, Mark Boeckman, a visitor to Zion National Park said earlier this week:
I’m a Republican and I am not happy with what they are doing. I’m of the opinion that the far right of the Republican Party has taken this too far. The Obamacare thing is something they voted for… it is what is. Live by it.
With Americans’ frustration growing at the shutdown, House Republicans are trying to distract from their closure of national parks by proposing piecemeal legislation to keep just national parks (but not monuments, refuges, or Forest Service campgrounds) open. They also took the opportunity on Wednesday to vilify the National Park Service for providing safe access for Honor Flight participants to the World War II Memorial, despite the fact that the agency “‘bent over backwards’ to make sure veterans were not inconvenienced or disappointed” according to the co-founder of the Honor Flight Network.
And of course, while national parks are closed to the public, they remain open to oil and gas drilling.