Utah congressmen urge emergency measures to keep national parks open

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Utah’s House members are urging the U.S. Department of the Interior to take emergency measures to resume full operations at Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks during the federal government shutdown.

A letter, signed by Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis, thanks the department for its efforts to keep national parks open during the shutdown but states, “We believe the administration has the authority to do more.”

The more outlined in the letter dated Friday to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is invoking at exception to an act prohibiting agencies from general operations when funds aren’t available.

“It can easily be an emergency,” Bishop said. People “can die in national parks. It’s not necessarily the safest place in the world so it needs more than a skeleton crew, and it needs more than just being open.”

The newest member of Utah’s congressional delegation and the only Democrat, Rep. Ben McAdams, sent a similar letter to Bernhardt Saturday, saying he joins in asking for an alternative approach to keeping the parks open.

“We’ve got to make sure we maintain these parks, safe, in a respectable condition,” McAdams said. “We’re got to get government back open, but in the meantime, we’ve got to maintain what we’ve got.”

Money ran out for a number of federal agencies just before Christmas, when Congress and President Donald Trump hit an impasse over a temporary funding measure because it did not contain funds for the president’s border wall.

Since then, the state has spent $55,000 to help keep three of the national parks in Utah — Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches — open through the end of the year by paying for minimal staffing.

Additional state dollars are being spent this week to maintain such services as cleaning restrooms at Zion, along with money from St. George, Washington County and the non-profit Zion Forever Project. Similar efforts are underway at Bryce Canyon.

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