Parnell threatens to sue feds over refuge closures

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell on Tuesday threatened to sue the federal government over the closure of federal refuges during the partial government shutdown.

Parnell, in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, said the state would sue unless the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed its shutdown of federal refuges in Alaska by the close of business Tuesday.

“With everything else that is going on, litigation between our respective principals should be avoided,” he wrote. “However, the financial impact and inconvenience to Alaskans can no longer be ignored, and we will seek to reopen these refuges based on the USFWS’ failure to follow its own closure regulations and other inconsistent positions adopted by DOI which have been repeatedly brought to your attention.” DOI is the Department of Interior.

Interior spokesman Blake Androff said in an email to The Associated Press, “We have extremely limited staff and resources during the government shutdown, but we continue to explore potential options to re-open National Wildlife Refuges using donated funds.”

Parnell has spoken with and sent Jewell several letters on the issue. In a prior letter, dated Friday, he said his main concern involved restrictions placed on the use of national refuge lands administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

He said the agency had closed its lands to all access, except that associated with federally qualified subsistence uses, and suspended all commercial service permits, which he said stood in “stark contrast” to how other federal agencies were responding during the government shutdown.

Parnell said he understood Jewell’s offer to have the state pay the operational costs of the refuges to reopen lands during the shutdown but said it wasn’t necessary to have the entire refuge administration operational for hunting and guided fishing to take place. He said the hunts and fisheries in question are managed by the state.

In that Oct. 11 letter, he dismissed the idea of using state funds to fund federal operations, saying in part the state “cannot backfill every time federal funds fall short.” In Tuesday’s letter, however, he indicated he nonetheless had staff contact Jewell’s office to see what the cost estimates would be. He said his office had not gotten a response.

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