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Bill would exempt federal recreation programs from future shutdowns

Recreational activities supported by the federal government would be exempt from closure in any future government shutdowns under legislation introduced in the Senate. On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) introduced the Keeping Public Lands Open Act (H.R. 2327). The bill would keep federal recreational activities operating at the funding levels of the previous year should Congress fail to enact a spending bill.

The bill is not yet available online. According to Walsh's prepared statement, it would exempt from shutdowns all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and all lands operated by the Bureau of Land Management. The bill would also exempt from closure Land & Water Conservation Fund projects, North American Wetlands Conservation Fund projects, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation projects and Migratory Bird Conservation Fund projects as well as any private land conservation programs.

Walsh noted that his home state of Montana suffered a big economic blow during the 16-day federal government shutdown last fall as campgrounds and national wildlife refuges were shuttered just as big game hunting season got underway. He said it cost the state $45 million in lost economic activity. That figure includes an estimated $18 million loss in tourism-related spending in the areas near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

Walsh, however, picked up no initial cosponsors for his bill. It was referred to the Committee on Appropriations.

Other legislators have introduced bills designed to reimburse states for the costs they incurred while operating federal lands themselves during the fall shutdown. But so far, none of those bills has gotten to a vote in either chamber. The Protecting States, Opening National Parks Act; for instance; was reported out of the House Natural Resources Committee last December 4 but the House has not voted on it. The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources never took a vote on it.

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