Who felt the federal furlough?

  • Grand Canyon visitors: They could look in, but not hike in

    Sam Minkler
 

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 dollars.

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.

"I imagine 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 contract claim."

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 counties.

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 checks.

"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."

In Fort Belknap, Mont., Indian community groups held emergency meetings, attempting to provide the services of the BIA, says BIA Supervisor Edie Adams.

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 story.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation seeks a steward/educator to lead backcountry volunteer projects and community outreach. FT $36k-$40k, competitive time off. ALSO HIRING OPERATIONS MANAGER. More...
  • ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER
    WANTED: ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER ~ UTAH/COLORADO border ~ Looking to immediately hire an experienced and clean hardworker to join us on a beautiful, very...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.