Tribal leaders question wisdom of reopening national parks without measures

Arizona tribal leaders told House lawmakers that moves to reopen national parks are being made without needed health safety measures to protect tribal members or park visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The comments by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Havasupai Council Member Carletta Tilousi come as the Interior Department is moving to reopen parks. That includes Grand Canyon National Park, which began allowing visitors on a limited basis last month.

“We rely heavily on the tourism industry, but now is not the time to be on the Navajo Nation,” Nez said. The Navajo Nation, one of the hardest-hit areas in the country for COVID-19 infections, reported 5,661 cases with 259 deaths as of June 3, 2020, a day after Nez spoke at the hearing.

Utah Republican ranking member Rob Bishop said, “To argue that our national parks and trails opening up is a threat to American lives is tone deaf at best, and disingenuous fear-mongering at worst,” and added that families enjoying national parks are “not endangering public health.”

But Nez said that message does not appear to be getting to tourists, pointing to heavy traffic across the Navajo Nation over the past two weekends, despite strict curfews and travel restrictions because of the coronavirus.

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