Archive | Federal Lands

Federal Judge Re-Opens Langley Fork Park

A federal judge has ordered the National Park Service to re-open Langley Fork Park, at least temporarily.  The Washington Post reports:

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the National Park Service to immediately reopen Langley Fork Park in McLean — which was closed Oct. 1 — and allow the boys and girls of the McLean Youth Lacrosse organization back onto the fields.

The judge’s order was not final. Attorneys are scheduled to return to federal court in Alexandria on Oct. 18 — provided the courthouse is still open and judges are still hearing civil cases — to hash out a more permanent resolution. But until then, Langley Fork Park will be open for the hundreds of kids in the youth lacrosse group, which sued the Park Service, and for anyone else who might want to use it.

According to the article, while Langley Fork Park is owned by the federal government, it is managed and operated by the county park authority. [...]

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Interior Re-Opens National Parks with State Support

The Washington Post reports:

On Saturday, the barricades at Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument disappeared, allowing visitors to return to the tourist draw despite the government shutdown. They also came down at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and New York’s Statue of Liberty. . . .

In an interview Friday, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) said he and [Interior Secretary Sally] Jewell worked out the agreement in the course of three or four conversations in recent days. After initially seeking permission to reopen the park and staff it with volunteers and others provided by the state, he agreed to pay for federal employees to return in order to revive the tourism that sustains several local communities near federal lands. . . .

By Friday night, Jewell had managed to strike deals with leaders in five states to reopen iconic sites, with states fronting the money to operate them.. . . .

While the Park Service had originally resisted the idea of accepting donations from outside groups or individual states to reopen sites, the Interior Department reversed course as the shutdown dragged on and state and local leaders warned that their economies were in peril.

Meanwhile, the USFS has (thus far) rejected similar arrangements with private operators. CoyoteBlog has more here. [...]

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Immigration Reform Rally to Proceed Despite Government Shutdown

Federal agencies, including the National Park Service, have been quite insistent that all access to national parks must be shut off due to the government shutdown.  As a consequence, the NPS and other land management agencies have erected barriers to prevent access to various parks, such as the WWII Memorial on the Mall.  The NPS and USFS have also forced the closure of facilities that are run by private concessionaires, even where the facilities are subject to minimal government oversight and do not require the expenditure of federal funds to operate (and have not been closed during prior government shutdowns, such as those in the 1990s).  But the shutdown won’t stop a major rally for immigration reform on the Mall today.  According to the Examiner, the NPS is allowing the rally because of the First Amendment.  FWIW, I see no problem with allowing the rally to proceed, but I also think that the erection of barriers in front of the WWII Memorial and the closure of independently run facilities were unnecessary. [...]

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Is the Federal Government Shutdown Forcing the Closure of Privately Run Facilities?

Bryan Preston reports that the federal government is ordering private contractors to close campgrounds and the like on federal lands even where such properties do not rely upon federal funds to operate. Indeed, in many cases, these properties generate revenue for the federal government. According to Preston’s report, similar closures were not ordered during prior shutdowns, so they would not seem to be required.  So, for instance, the National Park Service ordered Philadelphia’s City Tavern closed, even though it was not closed during prior government shutdowns.  Hans Bader has more here.

The fact that some facilities are being closed now when they were not closed during prior shutdowns suggests these are discretionary choices.  These closures also raise some interesting legal questions.  For instance, one 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 not clear authority for ordering a closure in this sort of instance, might the federal government be liable for the subsequent losses?

I understand the “Washington Monument strategy.” President Clinton used it quite effectively. But it seems to me there’s a difference between focusing cuts where they will be the most visible (or inflict the most pain) and ordering costly actions to create the appearance of cuts where no cuts are required. So, for instance, the NPS Park Police were apparently ordered to erect barriers across the entrances to various parks that cost nothing to keep open, such as the WWII memorial and overlooks on the GW parkway.  But any such orders should be justified by the need to conserve funds.  Closures that are not legally required and that cost the government money would seem to exceed the [...]

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D.C. Circuit Strikes Down Limits on Expressive Activity in National Parks

This morning, in Boardley v. U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the National Park Service’s permitting regulations for expressive activities in national parks on First Amendment grounds.  The panel opinion, by Judge Janice Rogers Brown, begins as follows:

It is unlawful to engage in expressive activities within any of this country’s 391 national parks unless a park official first issues a permit authorizing the activity. Michael Boardley argues this licensing scheme is overbroad and therefore unconstitutional on its face. We agree. The regulations in their current form are antithetical to the core First Amendment principle that restrictions on free speech in a public forum may be valid only if narrowly tailored. Because these regulations penalize a substantial amount of speech that does not impinge on the government’s interests, we find them overbroad and therefore reverse the district court.

Judge Brown’s opinion was joined by Judge Kavanaugh and Chief Judge Sentelle, who has written extensively about his own experiences with “expressive activities” on federal lands. [...]

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