As long as a ranger or contracting officer isn’t needed nearby, the public can continue to play and work in national forests during the federal government shutdown.
“The main message is the forest is still available,” Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig said Tuesday morning. “Folks can still use Blue Mountain and the Rattlesnake and Pattee Canyon. The folf course is still open. Some campgrounds may have been closed already, but we’re not going to lock anybody in. If there’s any gate closings at a campground, we’ll make sure we do a thorough check to make sure nobody’s back there.”
National forest personnel throughout Montana were going through “orderly shutdown processes” in response to the federal government’s failure to settle a spending dispute in Congress before a Monday night deadline. A notice to non-essential federal employees delivered Tuesday ordered workers to forego any duties after closing down their offices. The notice stated:
“Because your services are not excepted and you are not engaged in one of the excepted functions, you are being placed in furlough status effective today, October 1, 2013. This furlough, e.g., nonpay or nonwork status, will continue until a signed budget or a Continuing Resolution is final. During the furlough, you will not be permitted to serve as an unpaid volunteer, and you must remain away from your work place unless and until recalled to duty.
People are also reading…
“Employees in furlough status are prohibited from using government issued mobile devices such as laptop computer, Blackberries and cellular phones while in furlough status. The same prohibition applies to use of any government system, including remotely accessing government email or other automated systems.”
The Lolo National Forest was keeping essential activities going through the shutdown, such as feeding livestock at the Ninemile Ranger Station’s remount station and wrapping up burned-area emergency recovery work in forest fire zones. Hartwig said some other safety-related projects would go forward as well.
“We had a wind event in the Ninemile yesterday, and folks need to get out there and check the fence line,” Hartwig said. “We’ve got some fire suppression rehab work we need to finish in the Lolo Complex, and some stuff at West Riverside that needs to be finished up. Folks in Plains and Thompson Falls burned some piles yesterday, and we will continue to monitor those piles.”
However, recreational activities such as Forest Service cabin rentals have been suspended during the shutdown. Hartwig said people with cabin reservations were being called with the bad news. Contract work on logging and thinning projects was also on a case-by-case basis.
At Seeley Lake’s Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. resource manager Gordy Sanders said his crews were working as usual on Tuesday with Forest Service supervision. But he didn’t know how long that would continue.
“I understand there was a meeting yesterday in (Washington) D.C., and the intent of the Forest Service was to try and not interfere with ongoing operations or salvage work,” Sanders said Tuesday morning. “But they didn’t want any new projects starting up.”
Sanders said Pyramid crews were active on a Bitterroot National Forest project at Bass Creek and on the Clearwater National Forest near Lolo Pass, with Forest Service supervisors in place.
“The administrator is there today, and the contracting officer is working today,” Sanders said. “From our perspective, we fully intend to go forward and complete the projects in a timely way. At Bass Creek, we don’t have all the standing trees removed yet, but they’ll be cut and on the ground within a day. We’ve got a couple more weeks to go as far as the logging part goes.”
In Columbia Falls, Plum Creek Timber Co. vice president Tom Ray said one load of logs from a Forest Service timber sale had arrived Tuesday morning. But he was unsure if any more were coming.
“We don’t have any Forest Services right now, but we do have contractors who are selling logs to us that come from Forest Service sales,” Ray said. “We got an email last night that said they were not shutting down the contract logging as of today. That’s as much as I know. I guess we’ll see how it shakes out in the next day or so.”
At the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, spokeswoman Leona Rodreick said contracting officers were making contact with their private clients to work out arrangements. All other calls were being referred to the federal Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C., Rodreick said.
Forest supervisors and the Region 1 forester’s office will have skeleton staff on duty to await word from the capital to start the agency back up.
“I am going through my orderly shutdown process,” Forest Service Region 1 spokesman Brandan Schulze said Tuesday morning. “We’re setting up the out-of-office email messages and voicemail, and making sure the websites have the message. There won’t be any other updated information during the shutdown.
Farmers and ranchers are experiencing a halt to non-essential U.S. Department of Agriculture services. Offices across the state, including Farm Service Agency, closed Tuesday, and the USDA website was unavailable.
Two federal agencies housed at the University of Montana were either closed or in the process of shutting down early Tuesday.
Phones at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute went unanswered while the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center was closing.
Together, the two centers employ around 16 workers from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Elaine Poser of the Arthur Carhart center said her office at UM was in the process of shutting down and would be closed by noon Tuesday.
She and eight other employees at the center will be out of a job and go unpaid for as long as the federal shutdown lasts.
“I have my obligations the same as anyone,” Poser said early Tuesday. “If it goes on for weeks, there are things in my life that will be jeopardized.”
Poser remembered the last federal shutdown in the 1990s and called it a stressful time. She said she was displeased with Congress and its failure to negotiate a deal.
Reporters Alice Miller and Martin Kidston contributed to this story.
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.