The shutdown of the U.S. government became a reality this past week. It brought a virtual shutdown to several federal facilities, including our National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries at Garrison Dam and Valley City. Some employees at those facilities, but not all of them, were placed on furlough.
"For us that is up to 20, including seasonals," said Frank Durbian, Souris River Refuge Complex manager. "Our goal is protection of property, human health and safety, and resource protection."
Durbian and other personnel considered "excepted," such as law enforcement officers, remained at work this past week and will continuing working throughout the shutdown. At Upper Souris NWR, signs were posted at various locations last week to tell visitors that the refuge was closed due to government shutdown.
This sign, on display recently at the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, is self-explanatory.
Lake Darling, located at Upper Souris, closed to boat fishing the day prior to the shutdown. It happened to be the day of the annual closure anyway, so nothing new there. Still, shorefishing locations along the lake and at the often-visited public picnic area below the dam were closed to fishing. So, too, was the fishing area at Grano Crossing.
"We fully realize people are not accustomed to this. We are letting them know in as kind a way as possible of what is going on," said Durbian. "So far everybody has been nice but they are upset and disappointed with the government shutdown in general."
Operation of the dam is considered essential and has not changed. Waterfowl Production Area, or WPAs, have also been closed due to the shutdown. The WPAs are usually open for waterfowl hunting, but no more. Not until the government shutdown ends. The closure of WPAs may be among the most difficult for the public to understand because they are simply areas designated by sign or barbed-wire fencing. Nevertheless, they are under government control and designated for shutdown.
The state's two fish hatcheries produce a different set of problems. It makes no sense to walk away from raceways of fish. The FWS recognized that fact and placed employees charged with day-to-day management of live fish, animals or certain culture studies on a list which permits them to do work as needed.
At the Valley City hatchery, which has only a single full-time employee, the employee is permitted in the facility only to feed fish when necessary. The doors remain locked, just as they are at the Garrison Dam hatchery. However, because the employees other than the project leader receive their pay from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, it is generally business as usual in regard to care of the fish.
However, the Garrison Dam hatchery remains closed to the public. Phones at all federal facilities are not being answered and employees have been instructed not to use e-mail or other mobile devices. Employees placed on furlough may or may not receive pay at a later date.
"My employees are quite concerned," said Durbian. "They are on non-paid furlough status but are still considered employees until a budget is passed."
When that occurs depends on when opposing views in Washington, D.C., grow up enough to put aside political differences and find a solution.
In the meantime, our wildlife and fish are doing just fine. No furloughs. No being sent home. No blame game. No politics.