- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Alaska lawmakers accused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of violating federal law by shutting down hunting on its lands during the government shutdown, saying a 1980 law guarantees state residents must have access to the land.

“It seems that agencies are working harder to keep people off federal lands than they have ever worked before to get them to visit federal lands,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, who questioned the Obama administration’s decisions during the week-old shutdown.

The National Park Service has faced scorching criticism for closing not just parks, but even parking lots and drives that don’t require continual monitoring or upkeep. Other federal land management agencies also are facing criticism.

A tour guide who had a group at Yellowstone National Park accused the Park Service of “Gestapo tactics” in trying to prevent visitors from viewing any of the sites, saying that while they were allowed to remain at the lodge in the park, they were not allowed to do much else — including walk on the boardwalk paths outside the lodge or visit the park’s geysers.

And when he took the tour bus with his group along the road and stopped to photograph bison, he said, a ranger drove up behind them and told them they could be charged with trespassing.

“She told me you need to return to your hotel and stay there,” Mr. Hodgson told The Livingston (Mont.) Enterprise.

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While much of the federal government is closed, the parks and other federal lands are drawing an extreme amount of scrutiny — possibly because the Obama administration has decided to close down areas that remained open during previous shutdowns.

Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said in the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns his home state worked out an agreement to keep the Grand Canyon open with state and private funds. But the Obama administration’s Interior Department rejected that this year.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he will hold a hearing on the decisions the administration has made, but he said a shutdown is inherently messy and it’s no surprise people are angry.

“To me the lesson in all of this is, one, it’s urgent in terms of getting the government open again, two, we need to work together to fund the government,” he told Republicans.

The federal agencies say their hands are tied by the shutdown, but state and local officials say the discrepancies between, say, the Park Service and the Forest Service or the Fish and Wildlife Service show how badly the shutdown has been managed.

Alaska officials, for example, say two agencies — the Park Service and Bureau of Land Management — have left their lands open for hunting and fishing. But the Fish and Wildlife Service closed its lands despite the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, which requires the government to give full notice before shutting down access.

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And even as the agencies argue they have blanket policies, the administration has made some exceptions. An immigrant rights rally was allowed to take place on the Mall in Washington on Tuesday, despite it being park property that is supposed to be closed to the public.

Some of the speakers at the rally demanded President Obama give the same rights to everyone.

“Please open our parks and open this Mall to veterans and to normal everyday citizens who also should have the same access we enjoy here today,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, as she joined the rally for immigration.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who followed Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, defended the president, thanking him for making an exception to the shutdown and “enabling us to gather here.”

She also said veterans told her the administration “bent over backwards” to allow them to visit the World War II Memorial on the Mall, which has been the site of several clashes between the public and park rangers since the shutdown began.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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