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SALT LAKE CITY — Representatives Chris Stewart, Rob Bishop, and John Curtis contacted Acting Secretary Bernhardt Friday with a letter requesting the Department of the Interior allow normal operations to resume at Utah’s five national parks during the partial government shutdown due to emergent need.
The Republican congressmen wrote specifically in regards to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
“The Antideficiency Act prohibits agencies from general operations in the absence of appropriations. The Act does make a critical exemption for ‘emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,’” the letter explained. “We believe, in the case of these national parks, public safety and property are at heightened risk, and therefore merit this exemption.”
According to the letter, park rangers and search and rescue personnel are called to respond to hundreds of emergency incidents in the parks throughout the year. Zion, even in the winter, has as many as 11,000 people visiting the park in a single day, according to the letter.
“Only a skeleton crew is left to protect and serve these thousands of visitors,” the letter acknowledged.
Bishop said the Antideficiency Act has a provision that allows funding for emergency situations, which he believes this is.
"It can easily be an emergency," he told KSL TV. "People can not only get ill because of the situation but they can also die in national parks. It is not necessarily the safest place in the world."
Utah's parks need more than skeleton crews and "more than just being open," Bishop added.
Resuming normal operations could also benefit smaller communities that rely on national parks, according to Curtis.
"We have an economy that's really doing well in much of Utah but it's hurting in rural Utah and that's where these parks generally are located," he said.
Utah's newest congressional delegate Rep. Ben McAdams also sent a similar letter to Bernhardt saying he joins with Bishop, Stewart and Curtis in asking for an alternative approach to keep the parks open.
"Utah's national parks are among the most visited in the country and are important assets to local economies," he wrote.
McAdams told KSL TV he sent the letter to "make sure that the people and visitors of Utah's national parks can be safe during a shutdown."
According to National Geographic, in addition to a lack of ability to help visitors if they face emergent situations, national parks are also confronted with a number of expensive problems resulting from the lack of attendance. Human sewage isn’t being cleaned up and monitored, and trash collects in the unmanaged trash cans and in surrounding areas.
Whenever the parks reopen, they face a lot of expenses and manpower needs in the aftermath of the government shutdown.