The closure and re-opening of Utah's national parks offer a dramatic demonstration of the need to have greater state and local control over programs and services.
The political deadlock has also proved few in Washington gave any serious thought about the devastating ripple effects it would have on the lives of ordinary citizens.
National parks, monuments and recreation areas in Utah were among the many victims of this shutdown. They were all closed, locked and shuttered on Oct. 1. But the real impact of these closures reach far beyond park boundaries.
Local economies, merchants and service providers who rely heavily upon the tourism and recreation associated with the parks immediately lost their lifeblood. Tourists and vacationers from all over the world were turned away, along with their desires to experience the beauty and grandeur of Utah's scenic wonders. State, county and local governments were suddenly faced with the prospects of the loss of projected and necessary revenues
Local citizens and officials were understandably outraged and they searched for self-help remedies that could be taken to force the re-opening of the parks and associated federally operated facilities. Cooler heads prevailed. In contrast to criticisms leveled against Utah's public lands initiatives, state and local officials responded with great responsibility. They proposed an interim solution that addressed the needs of the tourist and recreation industry, local economies, citizens of Utah and the parks' lands.
Gov. Gary Herbert took the lead and proposed to the Department of Interior that Utah could fund the re-opening and operation of the parks on a temporary interim basis. To Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's credit, she embraced the governor's proposal. Together they directed their respective offices to immediately hammer out the details. Within a period of hours, the agreement was consummated and the re-opening of the parks was put into motion. The parks will now be open for two of the busiest weekends of the year. We are proud of the role the attorney general's office played in this process.
We firmly believe the events of the last couple of weeks vividly demonstrate three important realities. First, in these days of federal austerity, we assume substantial risk by relying too heavily upon the federal government to fund and administer programs that directly affect us in our businesses and daily lives. Because of the extensive federal presence in the state, Utah is particularly vulnerable to political and financial fluctuations in Washington.
Second, responsibility for and implementation of government programs and operations, including those pertaining to the public lands, should be vested in the hands of those who feel the greatest impact and who have the greatest understanding of the situation on the ground. Those in Washington simply do not understand, nor do they appreciate, the effects their far-removed decisions have on rural Utah.
Third, if allowed greater jurisdiction, powers and governing responsibilities, state, county and local governments will respond prudently, even-handedly and in the best interest of the citizens of Utah and all Americans, including in the proper stewardship of our treasured lands.
Utah's track record of government management and accountability is unmatched. The last few weeks show Utah can and should have an enhanced role in its citizens' affairs and in the uses of its land. The long-term public health, safety and economic welfare of Utahns depend on it.
John Swallow is Utah attorney general. Anthony Rampton is an assistant attorney general.