Visitors traverse the snow-covered boardwalk

Visitors traverse the snow-covered boardwalk along Excelsior Geyser Crater in Yellowstone National Park. Private businesses have pitched in to keep the park open during the partial government shutdown.

When Bob Beckley returned to work Monday at the U.S. Forest Service’s Technology and Development Center after a 35-day government shutdown, the first thing he noticed was all his computer passwords had expired.

“We all had to remember our old passwords and log in and change them,” Beckley said. “Then I had about 500 emails to sort through. And those weren’t from my co-workers, who’d also been furloughed. They were from all the volunteers and cooperators and people looking for traditional skills information and training.”

Up at Glacier National Park, spokeswoman Lauren Alley said she would try to find out how backlogged the park’s seasonal hiring process got after a month of inaction. But she wasn’t sure she could get an answer on Monday.

“Hiring is a lot of what we do in the winter, and January is when the hiring managers would expect to be doing interviews and calling references between now and February. But today they’ve got really pressing deadlines with payroll.”

They’re also investigating reports of unsupervised visitors flying drones and running dogs off-leash inside the park’s boundaries while rangers were furloughed. Glacier Park doesn’t allow snowmobile travel and has very few plowed roads in winter, so it didn’t feel the same law enforcement pressure as Yellowstone National Park. There, extremely diminished ranger crews had to deal with snowmobile tourists getting too close to the Old Faithful Geyser and one rider who drove her snow machine into the Madison River and needed rescue.

Most of the roughly 12,500 federal employees in Montana went five weeks without paychecks before President Trump signed a temporary spending bill to reopen the government late last Friday. They also had to abandon permit applications, environmental analyses, training programs and maintenance work scheduled to be finished before Montana’s millions of summer tourists come to play.

The Salmon Challis National Forest had to extend its public comment period for its new forest plan and wilderness evaluation process to February 28 after the shutdown eliminated a month’s worth of the feedback time.

Beckley said firefighter hiring for the coming fire season was going require a scramble to get the needed number of personnel signed up and trained. Fire crews in Arizona and other parts of the Southwest have missed a month of forest treatment time when they would otherwise have been burning and clearing hazardous fuels.

Trump triggered the shutdown of nearly a quarter of the federal government on Dec. 22 after announcing he would not sign budget bills that did not contain $5.7 billion for a wall on the nation’s southern border with Mexico. On Friday, he signed a temporary spending plan to allow continued negotiations through Feb. 15.

However, a number of government services continued during the shutdown, according to Andy Stahl, director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. They included completing public comment reviews on several major Alaskan timber sales, permit analysis of a large natural gas pipeline near Coos Bay, Oregon and funding some national park trash collection and maintenance with unappropriated user fees.

“I think this was less about the wall and more about shutting down the government,” Stahl said. “The Trump Administration was in essence trying to keep government open while there wasn’t money to pay for it. I think it reflected (Trump Chief of Staff) Mick Mulveney’s belief that a government with 800,000 fewer employees would be better than the status quo. He got to experiment with running a much leaner government and I expect that’s going to inform the next budget proposal.”

The Forest Service supervisors notice stated "The agency will not be able to achieve everything that was planned before the shutdown(.)" Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen was expected to hold an agency-wide conference call to hear from employees on Tuesday.

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday reported the shutdown cost the U.S. economy about $3 billion  in foregone economic activity in the last quarter of 2018. The first quarter of 2019 is forecast to be $8 billion lower than it would have been without the shutdown, although some of that will be recovered later in the year.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.