Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shutdown impacts wildlife, education

Craters of the Moon closure costs estimated at $12,000 per day

Express Staff Writer

    Of the 350,000 federal government employees out of work due to the federal government shutdown, 11,750 federal workers in Idaho are not getting paychecks.
    A tally of local impacts due to the shutdown includes delays on wildlife surveys, suspension of outdoor educational programs and substantial hits to the local economy.
    Ted Stout, a supervisory park ranger at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve near Carey, said 16 of his workers have been furloughed since the shutdown began on Oct. 1.
    “We usually get 100 to 550 visitors each day in the fall,” said Stout, who estimated the impact on the local economy in Blaine and Butte Counties at about $12,000 per day, based on a study conducted several years ago.
    “The hardest thing is that we have turned away 800 school kids who would have been here for fall field trips. Maybe they will make it out in the spring,” Stout said.
    Craters of the Moon, located southeast of Ketchum on U.S. Highway 20, usually stays open in winter to offer free cross-country skiing on a seven-mile groomed trail.
    “We are just waiting for something to happen here. We are looking forward to welcoming the public back to their park again,” Stout said.
    The Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters north of Ketchum has also been closed for more than two weeks, leaving visitors in search of detailed information about the region in the dark.
    Wildlife studies conducted by rangers and biologists at the SNRA are also being delayed.
    “It is troublesome and frustrating to not get on to the things I need to do,” said SNRA/U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Robin Garwood.
    Garwood said she was getting plenty of work done at home, but she had planned to write reports on wildlife surveys on several uncommon wildlife species in the SNRA, including Northern goshawks, pileated woodpeckers, fishers and wolverines.

The hardest thing is that we have turned away 800 school kids.”
Ted Stout
Craters of the Moon

    Garwood said another important project that she is falling behind on due to the shutdown is an effort to restore stands of whitebark pine trees that have been blighted in recent years by mountain pine beetles and blister rust.
    Whitebark pines are considered a crucial “foundation species” in high mountain ecosystems. The trees have co-evolved with Clark’s nutcracker birds, one of the only animals that can open its seeds.
    Scientists have learned that the ancestors of Clark’s nutcrackers likely carried seeds of the ancestors of whitebark pines with them when they came to North America across the Bering land bridge more than 1.8 million years ago.
    Garwood had been working to thin nearby stands of fir and lodgepole pines trees, as well as planting whitebark pine seedlings.
    “I am already behind in this work because of the Beaver Creek Fire,” she said.
    BLM officials said before the shutdown that landslide prevention efforts following the fire would not be suspended due to the shutdown, but could not be reached for comment to see how that work is progressing.
    Although federal Head Start early-childhood programs have been hit in other parts of the country, the program based at the College of Southern Idaho campus in Hailey has not been impacted.
    “If the shutdown continues past Dec. 31, there is a chance it could be impacted,” said Abby Greenfield, financial services director for Head Start programs at the College of Southern Idaho.
     Work on the state Highway 75 reconstruction project will also proceed as scheduled, said Nathan Jerke, public information specialist for the Idaho Transportation Department.
    Jerke said the $27 million project would eventually include rebuilding the Big Wood River Bridge.
    He said the funding comes from fuel taxes and a federal appropriation received several years ago, and so is not affected by the federal government’s general fund budget.
Tony Evans:

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