House chairman says Trump should close parks during shutdown

The top House lawmaker overseeing the National Park Service (NPS) says President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE ought to close parks during the ongoing partial government shutdown.

The Obama and Clinton administrations closed national parks during shutdowns in 2013 and 1995, but the Trump administration has left gates open and allowed visitors to keep coming in, despite nearly all staff being furloughed.

“Right now they’re unsafe,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told reporters.

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“Right now, there’s damage being done to our national parks, and we don’t have the capacity right now or the staffing to both protect the land and protect visitors.”

Grijalva said keeping parks open is exposing them to looting, vandalism, trash and other problems, since law enforcement, rangers and other staff aren’t there.

“If you shut them, it’d be safer for both the public and, more importantly, less damage,” he said.

Grijalva said wildlife refuges managed by Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service should also be closed. The agency told employees Tuesday that 38 refuges would be restaffed, in order to restore hunting and other visitor services — a decision Grijalva said he disagrees with.

Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumOvernight Energy: DC moves closer to climate lawsuit against Exxon | Dems call for ethics investigation into Interior officials | Inslee doubles down on climate in 2020 bid Dem lawmakers call for investigation into Interior officials over alleged ethics violations Lawmakers stunned by national park shutdown funding reversal MORE (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee subpanel that oversees the budget for the Interior Department, which includes the Park Service, previously called for officials to shut parks down.

“The law is clear: If the federal government is shut down, our National Parks must also be closed to protect public safety and pristine spaces,” she said Monday.

Administration officials acknowledged in recent days that parks are suffering from the shutdown, including damage to trees, trash piling up and buildings not being maintained.

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ordered parks to use the money they’ve brought in from visitors fees to pick up trash, clean bathrooms and take other actions to keep parks in working order.

Asked if that policy violates the laws that govern the collection and use of the fees, Grijalva said, “I don’t think it is,” and he predicted that outside groups would find ways to challenge it.