Controversial plan to bring staff back to national parks

Controversial plan to bring staff back to national parks

The park closed the Nisqually entrance near Ashford on Sunday after the forecast showed more snow on the way.

"We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services", read the statement from the agency's deputy director, P. Daniel Smith.

But though tragic on their own, the tally of deaths is not out of the ordinary for the expansive National Park Service, which sees an average of six deaths per week, Litterst said. The new department order could bring back thousands of workers to tackle those issues.

Incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations Interior-Environment subcommittee Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, suggested the move is likely illegal.

McCollum said she had voiced her concerns about the parks' predicament in a phone call with Bernhardt on Saturday. The directive does not say when the selected parks might reopen or which parks will be included.

"Either way, this president is only happy as long as the American people pay for his every whim whenever it suits him, " Grijalva said. Visitor fees were set aside before the shutdown for future park projects and paying off a deferred maintenance backlog.

The Washington Post first reported the shift in Park Service policy, including questions about the legality of tapping into the fee collections. The paper said "hundreds" of NPS staff could return to work as a result. According to official estimates, as many as 16,000 of the Park Service's 20,000-person winter workforce is furloughed.

The fees represent a fraction of the agency's $3.2 billion budget.

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With park services lacking funding to keep parks clean, Marc Newland and his 10-year-old daughter Erica have spent their days hiking the mountain trails with trash bags in hand so they can pick up litter along the way.

During the lapse of appropriations, the men and women of the National Park Service who have remained on duty have gone to incredible lengths to keep America's iconic national parks as accessible as possible to the American public.

And some visitors have died in parks since the shutdown began. In some sites where either state governments or outside groups are funding operations, employees are receiving at least part of their regular salaries. Three Utah Republican congressmen also asked Bernhardt to restart regular operations.

"The government shutdown means that our lovely national parks are overflowing with trash", the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association said in a Twitter statement on Friday, calling for people to join Muslim youth in cleaning up national parks.

"It's incredibly concerning that the Acting Interior Secretary is putting political pressure on superintendents to keep parks open at the expense of parks' long-term needs and protection", Pierno said. "Draining accounts dry is not the answer".

My thoughts were overwhelmed by these stories as I drove out to Joshua Tree National Park this weekend, anxious as to what I was going to see during this national park "free-for-all". Howenweep National Monument lists $255,000 in backlogged repairs, and Yucca House National Monument lists $125,000.

"We could not sit idly by as our national parks collected trash", Abdullah said.

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