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10/10/2013

It's not me, it's you: The states' confused love of federal lands.

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Just 10 days prior to the shut-down, Utah Governor Gary Herbert said “The growth of Utah's tourism industry over the past decade has improved rural economies, stimulated entrepreneurship and small business development, in turn, strengthening our rural communities,” in response to new numbers from Utah’s Office of Tourism.  What the Governor didn’t say in his statement, but certainly knows, is that this growth, which reached $7.4 billion in traveler spending in 2012, is a direct product of the federal parks, monuments, and public lands hosted in the red rock state.  

In the wake of the government shutdown and the closure of our nation’s parks, monuments, forests and other public lands Governor Herbert expressed outrage to the President, calling the shutdown of the parks and “other federal facilities” “unwarranted” and “devastating.”  Well, the Governor’s half right.   The economic losses to local communities are estimated at $76 million per day, now that millions of visitors have been turned away. 

Unfortunately what Governor Herbert and some of his colleagues from other states, who are similarly demanding the federal government re-open their public lands to visitors, neglect to see is the pure irony of their request.  In Utah, some counties, while aggressively attacking President Obama for the federal shutdown, are declaring “states of emergency,” which would trigger federal support. It’s like a bad break-up.  “I hate you, but I need you.”

So, while Governor Herbert has offered state, local, and private funds to reopen the parks in his state, nine of his counties have declared states of emergency, giving most the impression that they don’t quite have the resources it would take to effectively and safely manage open parks.  If the Governor really wants the keys to the parks and monuments closed due to the shutdown, then he would need to assume the burden of joy and responsibility that comes with that luxury.  It costs $2 million to run our national parks.  In addition, there is a $11.5 billion maintenance back log for the national parks, half of which is roads and bridges-- essential for public safety.  And speaking of public safety, in addition to addressing road and bridge repairs, opening closed parks without sufficient personnel to manage them, puts hikers, campers, and other visitors at risk.

Our own Tim Wagner said it best in Utah’s Deseret News, “It’s OK to continually blame the federal government for all of our state ills with rhetoric about 'federal control.'  [But] It's that federal control that came from the people of Utah and every state that resulted in those federally owned parks, monuments and wilderness areas that have benefited generations of Utahns.” 

So, let’s skip all the “it’s not you, it’s me” lines of this bad parting of ways and call it like it is:  Utah’s public lands are thriving economic engines, thanks the protection and safe keeping of our federal government.  The shutdown, due to the uncompromising few, has sacrificed that momentum, but the assumption of state control is both unreasonable and unrealistic. 

--Ani Kame'enui, Washington Representative


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