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U.S. Interior Department considers opening some national parks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of the Interior said Thursday it will consider re-opening national parks in some states that make special requests to Secretary Sally Jewell and can fully fund their own personnel.

The country's 401 national parks have been closed since October 1 due to the partial shutdown of government, furloughing some 20,000 national park service employees in the process.

Closure of major tourist attractions, such as Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon has had a major impact on local communities, whose economies rely on the parks' visitors.

Governors, including Utah's Gary Herbert, whose state is home to five national parks plus the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, have appealed to Jewell to reopen some of its parks and offered to fund staff.

"Responding to the economic impacts that the park closures are having on many communities and local businesses, Secretary Jewell will consider agreements with Governors who indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Park Service personnel to re-open national parks in their states," said Department spokesman Blake Androff.

He added that the department will discuss how to proceed with the limits of its current resources but will continue to press Congress to "swiftly enact appropriations" to reopen all the parks.

Arizona, Colorado, Utah and South Dakota have expressed some interest in exploring the possibility, but discussions are in the early stages, Androff said.

Ken Salazar, Jewell's predecessor, said on a press call Thursday that the interim measure demonstrates the importance of parks to the nation and its economy. He said the shutdown of national parks is costing $76 million a day.

"It just shows the kind of great support that our national parks have and she is using a common sense practical approach," he said.

"The fact is that the answer is for Congress to do what it needs to do and that's where the focus ought to be."

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny and Chris Reese)

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