WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wyoming Senator John Barrasso wrote a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Wednesday encouraging her to keep national park gates open if the looming government shutdown occurs on Oct. 1.
“I write to urge you to use the authorities Congress granted you in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) to keep the national parks and other public lands open and accessible in the event of a government shutdown,” Barrasso wrote.
Barrasso said FLREA allows the Dept. of the Interior to retain money from park entrance fees and redistribute it for park upkeep if the government indeed shuts down.
“In previous years, it has been demonstrated that these funds can be successfully utilized to keep public lands open during a lapse in appropriations,” his letter said. “During the December 2018-January 2019 shutdown, most of the national parks remained accessible to visitors because FLREA funds were available to cover costs associated with visitor services and law enforcement.”
The senator requested a response from the department by Thursday, Sept. 28, asking for details about FLREA funds and a contingency plan from the National Park Service.
“To ensure that you are protecting public access to our public places and preventing any irreversible environmental degradation during a shutdown, I ask that you keep the parks and public lands open and accessible,” Barrasso wrote.
“Your judicious management of FLREA fees will protect the millions of people who plan and save for trips to these special places, ensure that gateway communities that rely on park visitation for jobs and economic stability do not needlessly suffer, and sustain the dedicated National Park Service employees who rely on a regular paycheck,” the letter said.
Read the full letter here.
National parks were ordered to close during the 2013 government shutdown. They were kept open during the 2018 shutdown, maintained by a reduced staff. According to reporting by Outside Magazine, keeping the parks open during the shutdown without full staff led to issues.
“Trash and toilets overflowed, sensitive ecological areas were damaged, artifacts were stolen and people died,” Outside said. “An agency-wide deferred maintenance backlog that already stood at a hefty $11.6 billion before the shutdown swelled to $22.3 billion by 2022.”
The potential shutdown would halt government funding beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1 if Congress does not pass a funding plan.