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ST. GEORGE — As the government shutdown keeps a closed sign on national parks across the country, hindering local tourism, nine Utah counties have declared a state of emergency due to "economic disruption."
Commissioners from Washington, Kane, San Juan, Garfield, Sevier, Grand, Iron, Wayne and Piute counties met Monday, along with representatives from Coconino and Mohave counties in Arizona, to discuss the strain on tourism-dependent communities near the parks.
A week into the shutdown, tourism has dropped off sharply, county leaders said, leaving communities such as Springdale "eerily empty" in what should be the final weeks of its busiest season.
FARMINGTON — Farmington Bay is the closest waterfowl management area to Salt Lake City. It's typically busy, but it was especially crowded Monday because many of the prime areas for duck hunting were closed thanks to the federal government shutdown.
Jeff Bringhurst and friends usually go duck hunting 40 to 50 days each year. But the shutdown has made that a lot more difficult this past week.
All the best duck hunting territories are closed, Bringhurst says, and it almost makes the permits he and his friends bought a waste.
"The fact that we had to buy that stamp and now we can't use that facility is really a shame," he said.
It's just one of the many impacts being felt by the outdoors industry because of the shutdown. During a conference call Monday between some of the top groups in the industry they discussed the fact that hunters and fishermen are worth $86 billion a year in the $646 billion outdoor economy conference call among top industry groups — and the shutdown is taking a significant toll the longer it goes.
"It may keep them from being able to fulfill that lifetime dream," said Miles Moretti, of the Mule Deer Foundation.
If there are hard-to-get tags involved with the hunting, Moretti said, communication is also a problem as people decide where to hunt.
"If you're traveling a few hundred miles to one of your favorite hunting or fishing spots, you don't know whether it's open or closed," he said.
The good news is duck hunters are a patient crowed — they have to be to do what they do. But their patience is waning. Duck season just began, but it's only 107 days long.
In a declaration sent to Gov. Gary Herbert, county leaders said the internal disturbance in Washington County is damaging enough to warrant declaring a local emergency.
The governor's office has received the declaration and is reviewing it, said Ally Isom, Herbert's deputy chief of staff.
Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said he expects other Utah counties to adopt similar resolutions.
"We definitely need to get (the national parks) reopened. It's been a huge financial impact on us already," Gardner said, adding that he hopes the state will intervene either by helping reopen the parks or contacting federal government leaders about Utah's plight.
The declaration emphasizes that a significant amount of Washington County residents rely on tourism dollars from the 3 million annual visitors who travel to Zion National Park, which also reaches into Iron and Kane counties.
"A significant portion of the annual visitors come to Zion in the month of October to enjoy the fall temperatures and avoid the summer crowds. By no means has the tourism season ended at the beginning of October," the declaration states.
Other areas of Washington County, 75 percent of which is federally managed land, are hurting from the closure of campgrounds and areas frequented by hunters each fall, according to the statement.
Businesses in Garfield County have also seen a painful drop in patronage since Bryce Canyon closed, county leaders added, while other communities near national parks are seeing similar impacts.