Wyoming will not pay to operate Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks under a plan announced Thursday that could allow some states to cover the costs of reopening national parks closed under the government shutdown.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the federal government would consider offers from states to cover operational costs to reopen some parks, according to the Associated Press.
“Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government and we cannot spend state money to do the work of the federal government,” said Renny MacKay, spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead, who is traveling in Asia on state business.
MacKay said the governor recognized the far-reaching implications of the government shutdown, which went beyond national parks to include military and environmental programs, as well as social services.
Mead was told earlier that the shutdown order prohibited any state from reopening a national park, MacKay said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“While the Department of Interior’s position may have changed, Wyoming’s position has not,” he said.
Mead authorized the use of state employees and heavy equipment this spring when federal budget cuts forced Yellowstone and Grand Teton to delay snow plowing operations. The Wyoming gateway towns of Cody and Jackson raised private and local government funds to cover the costs of assisting with plowing, and the parks opened on time.
Mead cautioned then that he was wary of setting a precedent, and did not allocate state funds for the effort. Instead, he allowed local organizers to cover costs incurred by use of state equipment and Wyoming Department of Transportation workers.
Grand Teton National Park and Devils Tower National Monument are located within Wyoming’s borders. And while approximately 96 percent of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, 3 percent of the park lies in Montana and 1 percent is in Idaho.
Both those states see significant tourism revenue from their proximity to Yellowstone, greatly complicating the question of who would pay, even assuming the unlikely scenario that all three states were inclined to cover the costs.
With most of the summer season over already in Yellowstone, and only a handful of facilities inside the park still scheduled to be open through early November, the economic benefit to the states of such a move continues to dwindle with each passing day.
The governor’s office has not requested or received details on the costs or logistics involved in Wyoming picking up the tab to reopen the parks, MacKay said.
He said the governor’s position “does not preclude the discussion of other options besides using state money,” such as the locally funded spring plowing.
Raising local money for such an effort would be a “steep set of hurdles,” said Scott Balyo, executive director for the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce.
Though Balyo said he was open to all ideas, with only three weeks left in the season before Yellowstone would normally close, it’s unlikely such a complex deal could be put together in time, and highly questionable whether it would make economic sense for Cody and other small gateway towns, he said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].