Interior Department approves emergency aid for cleaning national parks in Montana

The National Park Service, faced with overflowing garbage and toilets as the government shutdown enters its third week, plans to tap entrance fees to pay for expanded operations at its most popular sites, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

The move came as Sen. Steve Daines urged the Park Service to find a way to ease pressure on communities surrounding the parks, which have pitched in with volunteers at popular places like Yellowstone National Park.

Daines wrote acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Saturday, advising him to allow some federal spending to supplement volunteer maintenance efforts.

President Donald Trump shut down portions of the federal government on Dec. 22 in a dispute with Congress over $5 billion he is demanding to build a wall on the nation’s southern border.

Bernhardt, according to the Post, signed an order that will permit park managers to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, haul trash, patrol the parks and open areas that have been shut during the more-than-two-week budget impasse. Both national parks in Montana have remained open.

National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith issued a statement Sunday that acknowledged that the administration’s practice of keeping parks open but understaffed has become unsustainable, the Post reported.

The shutdown has furloughed about 13,000 federal workers in Montana, including Interior staff at Yellowstone and Glacier national parks as well as Forest Service and other Department of Agriculture agencies. The federal government is the second-largest employer in the state.

Since the shutdown, visitors have been able to enter Yellowstone and Glacier, but depend on private businesses and residents for local services.

In his letter, Daines noted that while the Antideficiency Act prohibited continued government operations during a shutdown, an exemption existed for emergencies to protect life and property. He suggested that volunteers in Gardiner and Cooke City picking up trash and maintaining bathrooms “posed a significant risk to property and public health.”

“I urge you to reconsider a lapse in these services and any other eligible under this exemption of the Act and provide additional support to our gateway communities and national parks,” Daines wrote.

Daines said in a statement Sunday afternoon that he was pleased with Interior’s decision. “Our communities should not be in danger as a result of political games going on in Washington, D.C.,” he said.