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GOP Political Games: Opening the Beach Without a Lifeguard

Closed national parks and monuments have become a symbol of the true cost and burden of the federal government shutdown. Vacation plans are on hold and shuttered gates at more than 400 national parks are costing local communities $76 million a day by some estimates.

It’s a crisis that didn’t need to happen. All House Republicans needed to do was pass routine legislation to keep the government open without toxic political riders -- but they couldn’t even achieve that most basic aspect of their job. Now, feeling the heat from the American public, House Republicans clearly have buyer’s remorse and quickly scrambled to try and pass a bill that would partially re-open some of our public lands.

They’ve obviously heard from their constituents how important these special places are to our way of life and our economy  -- but they should have been listening a long time ago. This is the first time in years that most House Republicans have pretended to care about our national parks, forests, and monuments. And that partially explains why their political games fall so woefully short of restoring public access to our public lands.

In a move designed to distract from their failure to pass routine legislation to fund our government, this ill-conceived attempt has major implications for our lands and our economy and doesn’t even achieve what Republicans are telling us it does

National monuments, like Chimney Rock and Giant Sequoia National Monument would remain closed. So too would all national wildlife refuges, where millions of people go to hunt each fall.  According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every 5 years by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 41% of the US population age 16 and older participated in wildlife-related recreation in 2011. And they spent more than $144 billion that year on those activities, many of which take place on our refuges and other public lands.

Wilderness areas and most marine sanctuaries remain on the closed list. The House measure also fails to fund and open national forests, the single largest source of outdoor recreation opportunities in the US.  Spending by visitors to our national forests generates almost $11 billion for local communities and supports about 190,000 full and part time jobs. More than 160 million people visited our national forests in 2012. As a result of the government shutdown, that number could drop this year.

These places represent some of the most visited and special places in our country-- and they will all remain closed under current proposals by Congressional Republicans. Even if all our public lands were included in this legislation, it is folly to open our public lands without opening the whole government. It’s like opening a beach without hiring a lifeguard.     

Efforts by Speaker Boehner and the House Republican leadership to pass piecemeal funding solutions for our national parks and other popular programs merely treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying illness—the failure of Congressional Republicans to pass routine legislation to fund our whole government without toxic political riders.  It's past time for the GOP to end the political theater and get back to work so that millions of Americans can too.

-- Athan Manuel, Director, Lands Protection, Sierra Club

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