Yellowstone Shutdown

The east entrance to Yellowstone National Park is closed to visitors due to the federal government shutdown in 2013. A bill that would have allowed the state to take over federal facilities in the event of a government shutdown or natural disaster died before reaching the Wyoming House floor on Wednesday.

Pssst, Montana.

You can do better than Wyoming.

Yet, Montana lawmakers would do well to take a look at what the Equality State is doing to make sure that its own tourism-dependent economy is not shattered when and if the next federal shutdown shutters federal parks.

And, what's good for Wyoming may be good policy for Montana — with a few significant tweaks.

Just recently, Wyoming state Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, drafted a bill, Senate File 148, which would allow Wyoming's governor to seize control of the federal lands in the case of a government shutdown. It would allow the governor to determine what state agencies needed to be rallied, and then deploy them for use in national parks until the end of the shutdown.

Note: This legislation in Wyoming would only allow the state to help run federal parks in case of a shutdown. It would not be permanent. 

Legal experts are already calling the bill a "no-go" because of the provision that would allow — even encourage the state government — to seize the federal lands.

Yet, even though the language of SF148 may be flawed, the concept, we believe, is excellent. And most experts agree that there is probably some way to structure a deal to allow states to step in when the federal government can't seem to get its act together.

Wyoming depends on tourists to come to places like Yellowstone National Park, Devils Tower National Monument and Grand Teton National Park. Tourism is a big a deal in Wyoming. But it is also a big deal in Montana which boasts a part of Yellowstone, Big Horn National Park and Glacier National Park.

That's why Scott's bill would seem to make sense. Not only that, but with the threat of another federal shutdown looming if Congress cannot come to an agreement by Feb. 15, this bill may be exactly what is necessary to keep local economies going. Keep in mind that tourism is Montana's second largest industry. 

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During this shutdown, local businesses stepped up to keep Yellowstone open at a minimum. Yet, there were still reports of overflowing trash and nearly unusable bathrooms. 

Legislation like this would do two important things. First, it would allow the state government to step in to help its federal counterpart so that the shutdown would not be as noticeable. Secondly, it would not put the livelihood of communities in such jeopardy, and keep tourists (and money) flowing. It would also allow the parks to keep up with the tourists who do visit the park so there's not so much clean-up and catch-up to do when the federal government gets back to the business it should have been doing all along.

This law would reduce uncertainty.

We believe that the bill's language, while inelegant and imprecise, has the right intent. There are serious flaws with the bill, including language that allows the state of Wyoming to "seize" the federal assets. Talk of that doesn't sit well with Uncle Sam. And then there are the logistical problems of the State of Wyoming actually controlling roadways which, if not under federal control, actually sit within the state of Montana. However, we believe this is an opportunity for the states to work together for the common good of the entire region.

We would suggest that if Montana wanted to take this initiative up, it would actually prevent the harmful effects of a future shutdown by offering certainty to these communities that surround our national treasures. Furthermore, Montana could do better by finding different, more acceptable language so that the Treasure State wouldn't be declaring war on the federal government by "seizing" the assets. Maybe we could be designated a temporary or interim caretaker.

You know that old joke that Ronald Reagan liked to use: We're from the federal government and we're here to help. Just imagine if we could say to the federal government: We're from Montana (or Wyoming) and we're here to do your job. 

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