Shutdown hits parks, tribes

Written by Adam Spencer, The Triplicate October 04, 2013 06:19 pm

The shutdown of the federal government this week has had significant impacts for hundreds of Del Norters who are directly employed by the federal government or who work for employers that depend on federal funding.

Local employees with the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and local Indian tribes are watching the congressional deadlock in Washington, D.C., like their jobs depend on it. Because they do.

At the Redwood National Park offices, 102 employees were furloughed Tuesday, leaving only seven law enforcement employees and the water systems operator.

Normal operations are continuing in the state redwood parks, including Jedediah Smith, Del Norte and Prairie Creek.

In the Gasquet Ranger District of Six Rivers National Forest, the only employees remaining are the district ranger and the firefighting workforce, while eight employees in administration, recreation and natural resources were also furloughed Tuesday.

Some employees of the Yurok Tribe were informed that if Congress does not act by Monday, several employees would be furloughed, followed by several more the following week if nothing changes. Yurok Tribe officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Tribal officials with Smith River Rancheria and Elk Valley Rancheria, which unlike the Yurok Tribe can also rely on casino revenue, said that they do not have current plans for employee furloughs and are continuing with “business as usual” for now.  But if the shutdown continues, “the impact is magnified,” said Russ Crabtree, executive director of the Smith River Rancheria, adding that the tribe is watching how events unfold very closely.

“We haven’t had to suspend any programs as of yet, but the continuing sequestration and the shutdown impacts the availability of federal funds so we are covering those costs out of the tribes’ pocket,” said Brad Downes, general counsel for Elk Valley Rancheria.

Tribes across the U.S. have been preparing to suspend some federal programs and pay for others out of pocket as a result of the shutdown.  Essential activities, including law enforcement, firefighting, schools and some social services, will continue, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but others are sure to take a hit, such as financial assistance for the needy, payments for foster care and oversight of environmental, wildlife and cultural programs.

Tribes are being cautious about using limited funds to cover federal programs in case the feds decide to not be reimburse those funds.

Meanwhile, if you call the Redwood National Park visitor center in Crescent City, a recorded message says: “Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks and national parks facilities, including those of the Redwood National Park, are now closed.”

If you try to visit Redwood Park’s website, a similar message says that all national parks’ websites are not operating.

The Smith River National Recreation Area Visitor Center in Gasquet is also closed.

Ranger-led community outreach education programs in Redwood National Park were cancelled, including events for more than 115 schoolchildren this week alone, according to parks officials.

Would-be visitors to the Redwood Parks information center have instead gone to the Crescent City and Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, which has had a marked increase in visitors.

A prescribed burn planned in the Bald Hills area of Redwood National Park has been cancelled as a result of the shutdown.

“To not perform the burn within this rare window of weather conditions and moisture levels may have many future ecological impacts,” according to a parks press release.

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