Shutdown spoils chance for wildfire rehab
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The partial government shutdown has left federal agencies scrambling to rehab and reseed areas burned in wildfires this summer, federal land managers say.
Workers for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management returned to work Thursday following a 16-day layoff and are still going to need several days to get agencies back up and running.
But federal fire managers say the goal now is to race against the calendar and cooler weather to finish projects delayed by the stoppage.
“We can’t get that time back,” Chris Simonsen, fire management officer with the Bureau of Land Management, told The Times-News. “We missed a critical three weeks of excellent field time.”
As soon as they are able, crews will begin working on soil stabilization in areas burned by the Beaver Creek Fire near the cities of Ketchum and Hailey and the Wood River Valley, he said. Reseeding efforts will also begin, but only as long as the weather permits.
Contractors hired with the BLM were also told to stop working during the shutdown, meaning projects like juniper removal are no longer on schedule, Simonsen said.
“We’re going to do as much as we can,” he said. “But it’s going to take a couple days before we’re back on track and everything’s normal.”
Managers may also face the challenge of getting the work done with smaller crews. In some cases, Simonsen and others say they lost some of their seasonal workers who sought other jobs during the shutdown.
“They didn’t know when they were going to get paid,” he said. “If a government shutdown becomes more frequent, I see that affecting our recruitment. People may not see working for the federal government as a stable environment.”
Foresters with the Sawtooth National Forest kept a handful of employees working during the shutdown to respond to mudslides and erosion from this summer’s wildfires, said Sharon LaBrecque, planning and natural resources staff officer with the U.S. Forest Service.
“That was considered a human health and safety issue,” LaBrecque said.
What and how much will get done was still being discussed Thursday, said Nate Lancaster, fire management officer for the Sawtooth National Forest.
The forest saw above average fire activity, meaning there’s a greater need for rehab this fall, he said.