Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Local Economies and Natural Resources Hurt By The Artificial, Made-In-Washington Shutdown

Late last month, I was fortunate to enjoy the most lovely settings to be found anywhere, anytime, as Vermont’s hillsides were painted orange, yellow and red by peak Fall colors, set against powder blue skies.  Vermonters love these sublime few weeks, and happily welcome visitors from around the United States, and around the world, to share the experience, and to hike, bike, fish and hunt one our extensive conserved natural areas.   

But the “best of times” has become the “worst of times,” as Vermonters and visitors alike have found “closed” signs on our favorite natural areas due to the Tea Party shutdown of the federal government.  The window is quickly closing in Vermont for Fish and Wildlife Biologists and National Forest Rangers who have work that must be done before the snow flies. Their schedules are dictated by the changing seasons and the biological clocks of nature.  The House Republican Leadership has been no more able to undue the law of the land which is the Affordable Care Act than they would be able to slow or stop Vermont’s changing seasons.  Insisting on tying a repeal or a defunding of the Affordable Care Act to reopening the government is doing real and lasting damage to Vermont’s economy and natural resources as fall quickly becomes winter.   

The 26,000-acre Nulhegan National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is among the best upland bird hunting areas in New England.  There is plenty of room for everyone, but just days after the opening of grouse season, the Refuge has been forced to hang up a “closed” sign and lock its gates.  This has dealt a blow to the tourism economy of the small towns around the Refuge that depend on these annual visitors and hunters.

The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge on the shores of Lake Champlain is, without a doubt, the best and most extensive fresh-water duck habitat in New England.  Huge meadows of wild rice attract thousands of migrating waterfowl, and legions of bird watchers and hunters.  But with the fall migrations in full swing the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge hung up a “closed sign” and locked its gates for the start of the fall hunting season.

Hikers looking for the best panoramic views of Vermont’s fall colors flock to the Appalachian Trail and Vermont’s Long Trail which run together up the spine of the Green Mountains, through the four-hundred-thousand-acre Green Mountain National Forest.  Through-hikers, weekenders, and day trippers spread out to enjoy hundreds of miles of trails.  But only a skeleton crew of forest rangers and fire crew remain on the job. Visitor centers and restrooms are closed, even volunteer workers have been pulled from the trail and forced to stop shelter work and trash collection at trailheads because of the Tea Party shutdown.

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village and host to the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park.  The centerpiece of the park is the oldest sustainably managed forest in the United States, but visitors are denied access to that forest in all of its fall glory. Long planned events at the park have been canceled and the gates have been locked.

Certainly there are many more places for visitors to enjoy – this has been a wonderful picture perfect season – but the closing of our federal lands, just as hunting seasons begin and the hillsides shine, is depriving Americans from experiencing the country’s natural heritage and causing serious economic damage to the small towns, inn keepers, and guides who depend on these areas for their living.  Foreign tourists, increasingly important to our economy, and their tour operators, are confused and disappointed by these outcomes.

Other conservation work is being curtailed, as well, in ways that are likely to do lasting damage to the resource base.  Control of parasitic sea lamprey on Lake Champlain must be accomplished each fall to protect game fish and threatened species.  There is a short window when the sea lamprey treatments can be applied before these parasites migrate from rivers to the lake.  That window is fast closing, and will be missed if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists remain on furlough.  If these fall treatments do not take place, thousands of young sea lamprey will be allowed to reach the Lake, where they are immune to treatment, live for years and devastate the fishery.  This will undo years of work, and waste millions of dollars invested in this program.

In Vermont and across the country, there is a lot of work that needs to take place on our federal lands before winter snows sweep in.  Snowmobiling is very popular among my constituents and is a mainstay of our winter economy.  Fall is the time that trails are graded and bridges repaired.  Our most important trail networks are on federal lands, and important maintenance is being delayed or deferred in some cases due to the Tea Party shutdown.  If trails are not opened before the snow flies the devastating impact on tourism and local communities will last all winter.

Fall in Vermont is the most glorious season.  We welcome visitors, get outdoors ourselves, and are busy preparing for the long winter to come.  Our hardworking federal partners are proud of the work they do on these federal lands and they know that this manufactured Tea Party crisis is causing real and lasting damage to our natural resources and the Vermont economy. 

National parks and refuges in Vermont are not the only places closed for business.  According to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, every day that the federal government is shuttered costs the Park Service nearly half a million dollars in lost fee collections nationwide and the impacts are even greater for the surrounding communities that are losing $76 million per day in visitor spending.  While some in the Tea Party argue that shutting down the federal government is saving us money, the truth could not be more different.  Now as we reach day 15 of the Tea Party shutdown, the Park Service has been denied over $6 million in lost revenues and local communities have lost over $1 billion. This is why several states have chosen to foot the bill to reopen a handful of national parks to stop further losses to local economies. The costs from shutting down the government, paired with the lost revenue is keeping us in the red.

Stop wasting time and put our government back to work.  I want to get back to work for Vermonters. We owe it to our constituents to resolve this now and start making real decisions about our future. Speaker Boehner should call up the Senate Continuing Resolution for a vote. It would receive bipartisan support, and we would put an end to this pointless Tea Party shutdown and reopen our federal lands, which will in turn help support our local economies.

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