While his colleagues paced anxiously at home during the 21-day federal furlough, Forest Service timber contracting officer Lathrop Smith administered 13 green timber sales in southwestern Colorado. He was hampered - -there were no soil scientists, hydrologists or biologists' - but stayed on the job.
Smith was not alone. Although most of the
West's federal kingdom lay dormant, private companies and state
governments doled out money to keep federal projects on track. In
other areas, a patchwork of humanitarian organizations responded to
the pressing needs of people dependent on federal
The apparent influence of the timber
industry in keeping the Forest Service's timber program rolling
along irks Brooks Preston, minority staffer for the Senate
Agriculture Committee. According to Preston, the Forest Service
used non-appropriated trust fund accounts, such as the salvage sale
account, to fund green timber sales.
there were one or two timber sales going on in every Forest Service
region," he says.
White River National Forest
Supervisor Sonny LaSalle, who had three timber sales and a full
deck of ski areas operating in his forest, says timber contractors
like Smith were deemed "essential" because the Forest Service has a
contractual obligation with timber purchasers. "If Congress and the
president can't seem to agree," he says, "we are liable for a
But Preston questions why the
timber industry should be spared the pain other industries felt
during the shutdown: "The EPA terminated all of its contractual
agreements ... private sector folks are seeing their profits
evaporate," he says. "It's strange that timber contracts are
business as usual."
Ski companies didn't miss a
beat when the government shut down. Not only were lifts still
running on Forest Service land, but future expansion plans stayed
right on track. Forest Service employee Loren Kroenke showed up at
work every day at the Holy Cross Ranger Station in Colorado knowing
he would receive a paycheck. Kroenke works full-time as the project
manager for Vail Associate's 4,000-acre expansion on public lands
and is paid by the ski company.
In Arizona, the
state government and private donors paid the National Park Service
$17,000 a day to keep Grand Canyon open, at least on the rim.
While ski companies bailed out federal employees
in some of the West's wealthiest counties, the Bureau of Indian
Affairs turned to tribal councils to help the West's poorest
In North Dakota, South Dakota and
Nebraska, 1,779 families faced three weeks without general
assistance payments during a brutal cold spell, according to
Delbert Brewer, director of the Aberdeen, S.D., area BIA office.
Schools and prisons threatened to close for lack of food. "These
are the neediest of the neediest, the poorest counties in the
nation," says Brewer. "They get no assistance from anywhere else."
Brewer was forced to turn to the tribal governments for help even
though the tribes weren't receiving their federal
"The tribes are stepping in and bailing
out the federal government only because they refuse to watch a
bunch of people starve and freeze to death," says Brewer. "We are
robbing Peter to pay Paul to buy fuel."
Belknap, Mont., Indian community groups held emergency meetings,
attempting to provide the services of the BIA, says BIA Supervisor
Congress sent all employees back to
work Jan. 8. Forest Service researchers resumed their data
collection and snowmobilers entered Yellowstone National Park. But
federal employees were wary. If budget talks break down before Jan.
26, the struggle to keep the West moving without federal funds
could happen again.
Heather Abel is a staff
researcher and reporter. Intern Dustin Solberg contributed to this