U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., introduced a bill May 13 that would keep public lands and national parks open to visitors in the event of a government shutdown.
“Access to Montana’s public lands should not be held hostage by the whims of Washington, D.C. or a few irresponsible politicians,” Walsh said in an interview with the Beacon. “I’m hopeful that there won’t be another shutdown, but nothing is certain here. I know that I would not support a shutdown, because as lieutenant governor I saw what it did to Montana’s economy.”
In February, Walsh was appointed to fill former Sen. Max Baucus’ seat when the long-running senator was tabbed as the U.S. Ambassador to China, making Walsh the incumbent in Montana’s marquee Senate race.
Republican Congressman Steve Daines is considered Walsh’s likely opponent in the general election.
The bill, called the “Keeping Public Lands Open Act,” would continue funding for operations at the previous fiscal year’s level in the event of a government shutdown.
Walsh said he proposed the bill because of the damage done to Montana during the 16-day federal government shutdown and budget impasse in October.
The bill would cover national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, the Bureau of Land Management, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, and private land conservation programs.
In support of the proposed bill, Walsh cited a study released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of the Interior showing that Montana’s national parks alone brought over $403 million in economic benefits in 2012. More than 4.4 million visitors came to Montana’s national parks, according to the report, supporting over 6,500 jobs.
The Outdoor Industry Association reports that overall outdoor recreation in Montana supported more than 64,000 jobs and totaled $5.8 billion in consumer spending in 2012.
The Interior Department study also showed that the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 resulted in lost revenue of $18 million in the gateway communities around Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
It also cut into the hunting season in Montana.
“It affected all of the tourists who came into the state of Montana to go into Yellowstone National Park and Glacier, it disrupted the hunting season, it affected small businesses, and it was bad for the economy,” Walsh said.
The bill will be referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
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