Obama’s intransigence closed America’s natural wonders

October 14, 2013

He wants to make the impasse painful and personal – while blaming Republicans

Ron Arnold

For anyone who doubts that President Obama and his minions are trying to make the government shutdown as painful as possible, remember that it’s a decades-old White House ploy with a revealing name: “the Washington Monument Strategy.”

It works like this: Turn visitors away from our great national memorials to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, then point up the Mall toward Capitol Hill, yell “Congress made me do it” – and hope the public falls for it.

This president is taking the tactic far beyond what his predecessors ever did – and it t almost backfired the morning of October 1, when a group of 92 veterans arrived at the barricaded World War II Memorial, guests of a citizen sponsored “Honor Flight” from Mississippi. A National Park Service policewoman wouldn’t let them in.

A group of Republican congressmen who had come as greeters defied the NPS and shoved the barriers aside. The valiant veterans, some in wheelchairs, took the memorial like it was Iwo Jima or Normandy Beach. Park police sensibly let them tour to their heart’s content – but then shut things down again after the veterans left.

There’s a storm looming over this “make it hurt” strategy outside of Washington, says Don Amador, activist for motorized outdoor recreation and founder of TrailPAC.

“This shutdown will affect America in ways that you would never have imagined,” said Amador. “All 401 national park units – 84 million acres (an area nearly the size of Montana) – are closed. Maybe worse, the National Park Service website is not operating, leaving no way to check conditions, before they leave home. Visitors already in the parks were given 48 hours to leave,” even if they had booked hotels and tours months in advance, and even paid for them.

Thousands of tourists are unexpectedly finding parks closed, nobody there to help, and hotel and campsite reservations useless at Yosemite, Sequoia, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Big Bend, Acacia, Denali, and 394 other NPS destinations. They’re being told to stay in their hotels, until they are evicted from them too, and aren’t even allowed to walk or drive to view the geysers, mountains or gorges from a distance. The personal disruptions and financial losses will be horrendous.

Groups of Grand Canyon river rafters are being stopped at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, by armed park rangers and banned from floating down the Colorado River through the national park. One group from Philadelphia spent over $30,000 for the non-adventure and faces hundreds of dollars more for flight-change fees, to go home angry and disappointed.

House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Doc Hastings urged legislation to reopen and fund the national parks. However, the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected the Washington Republican’s proposal, suggesting powerful political motives are at work.

I asked a congressional source whether National Parks Director Jonathan Jarvis had said anything about the park-closure decision.

I was told that Jarvis had assured officials the decision was his alone. But further inquiry revealed that the White House Office of Management and Budget had ordered Jarvis to close the parks. That’s not surprising, since President Obama had repeatedly said “there will be no negotiations” and a Park Service ranger said he and his colleagues had been told “to make life as difficult for people as we can.”

It gets worse. Jarvis and his Park Service rangers have even closed off access roads and parking lots at Mount Vernon and the Claude Moore Colonial Farm Park in Virginia, just outside of Washington. These are privately owned sites that get no federal money and depend on tourism and special events to keep their doors open and serve the American public. October is their busiest month, and they will lose tens of thousands of dollars because of these perverse lockouts. They will likely never replace that money.

Jonathan Adler, professor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, asked: “On what authority can the NPS or another federal agency order the closure of a facility run by a private concessionaire or tenant? Do the relevant lease or concession agreements provide for this? And if there is no clear authority for ordering a closure in this sort of instance, might the federal government be liable for the subsequent losses?” Excellent questions.

The dictators’ excuse? Some of the land or access roads or parking areas are on federal land. Therefore, they have a right to lock them up, bar access and wreak havoc. They could easily use the same bogus excuse to close down thousands of roads and highways in western states, where the federal government owns and controls 34 to 86 percent of all the acreage, including land that these roads cross.

The furloughed federal workers will eventually get paid. The tourists Jarvis, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are shafting will never get their money back for flights and fees already paid; hotel and concession operators will never be able to recoup money they lost because the public was barred from their events and facilities.

Amador added, “National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands are likewise closed. Hunters are finding their expensive permits and tags are worthless in the middle of deer season. Some of my friends have been booted out of Forest Service campgrounds. Public land volunteer cleanups by the Off Highway Vehicle community have been cancelled. Rangers are giving tickets to recreationists on roads that have not been gated.”

Hunters were barred from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands in Alaska, after spending thousands of dollars, and without being given any notice of the closures until they arrived. This outrage violates laws that require notice before areas can be closed to the public.

“But the largest single group of federal land users is the off- highway vehicle community, calculated by federal land managers at 21 percent of the total American population – more than 60 million people who have made at least one off-road trip in the past year,” Amador noted.

These recreationists are being turned away at popular sites that support thriving local economies from the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area to the Gulf Islands National Seashore off Florida and Mississippi, and Vermont’s snowmobiling favorite, White Rocks National Recreation Area.

I wouldn’t be surprised if hundreds of these rightfully infuriated people wrote these big losses off on their taxes, as donations or business losses – and I’d vote “not guilty” if the IRS went after any of them and I were on the jury.

Amador summed up the situation: “The White House is overplaying its hand. Its no-compromise stance is not about Obamacare or the budget, it’s about politics and power.

“President Obama could stop this shutdown with a word. He’s not doing it. His autocratic intransigence is losing the goodwill of tens of millions of fellow Americans.”


RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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