Government shutdown

The Wallowa Mountains office in Joseph has a discreet sign explaining the current federal budget impasse.

ENTERPRISE, Ore. — As the partial federal government shutdown continues into its fourth week some rural Northwest communities are feeling the pinch.

In western Oregon wolves are under federal protection, but federal employees assigned to monitoring them with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services are on furlough. Steve Niemela, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife district fish biologist in Central Point, said his office is feeling the added pressure.

“It has an impact on us,” Niemela said. “We can’t coordinate effectively — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency in wolf management.”

He said state and federal biologists follow a “good set of guidelines,” but the furlough makes it challenging.

Niemela said much of the habitat restoration planning for Oregon’s fish and wildlife is also on hold as many of the projects are on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

“Just about everything we do, there is some sort of federal nexus,” Niemela said.

In northeastern Oregon, federal funding to pay employees of the Tri-County Weed Management Area hasn’t been received, according to Susan Roberts, Wallowa County Commission chairwoman, so Baker, Union and Wallowa County leaders are looking for supplemental money, possibly in the form of a bridge loan.

“We are finding a way around the federal reimbursements to keep our folks paid,” Roberts said. “They still have bills to pay, but we can’t get reimbursed.”

Ongoing talks regarding the Blue Mountain Forest Plan Revision with Glenn Casamassa, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Regional forester, are also on hold. Roberts had hoped to talk to him during the Association of Oregon Counties meeting Monday in Salem regarding the plan’s progress, but he was unable to attend because of the furlough.

While most Forest Service grazing allotment permittees are not running cattle on public land in January, Rod Childers, who ranches in northern Wallowa County, said he normally has had his annual operating instruction meeting by now.

“I get mine done first part of January so I don’t have to deal with it before calving, but that isn’t going to happen," Childers said. "Now I’m concerned about getting it done in time for turnout in the spring.”

With calving season on his mind, Childers said he also worries about the Wildlife Services field agents who control predators being furloughed at his cattle’s most vulnerable time.

As of today afternoon, there appeared to be no end in sight to the shutdown. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said he agrees with the president’s case for increased border security, but he didn’t support shutting down natural resource agencies.

“I don’t agree that it makes sense to furlough the people working on the biological opinion in the Klamath Basin, forest fuels reductions in central Oregon, or grazing permits in eastern Oregon," Walden said. "How does a nearly month-long work stoppage benefit taxpayers who are waiting for decisions and plans and permits?”

Walden isn’t the only Oregon representative concerned about the shutdown’s effects on natural resource agencies. Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were two of the signers on a letter sent to the president Jan. 14 urging him to fund the agencies responsible for wildfire suppression.

The letter, signed by 12 senators said, “The failure to reopen the government puts peoples' lives at risk by undermining their ability to respond to wildfires and will only serve to delay critical forest restoration and safety projects. These young men and women put their lives on the line to protect the nation's natural resources and other public and private property, and they deserve to have the best training possible in preparation for increasingly difficult fire seasons.”

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