Hunters escape shutdown issues
Oil and gas development in fed waters also not feeling the pinch
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing dozens of wildlife refuges to return staffers to work to make sure hunters and others have access despite the government shutdown, according to an email obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The partial restaffing of 38 wildlife refuges is angering wildlife groups, who accuse the Trump administration of trying to minimize the public impact of the shutdown.
In an email sent Tuesday, Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, cites “opportunities, including hunting” that are being lost in the shutdown.
Oil, gas staffers to stay on job
Everson advises in the email that 38 wildlife refuges around the country will bring back some furloughed staff using carryover funds.
“… the extended lapse in federal appropriations is impacting both our ability to serve the public and to protect natural resources under our care in some places,” Everson wrote.
Everson did not immediately respond to an email from The AP seeking comment.
The Interior Department’s shutdown plan says a small majority of agency staffers in charge of permitting and overseeing oil and gas development in federal waters will be kept at work, no matter how long the shutdown lasts, “as they are essential for life and safety.”
The Trump administration has emphasized public use on public lands, especially by hunters, and oil and gas developers.
Impossible to steward
On Wednesday, several organizations urged the Trump administration to keep national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands closed to the public during the shutdown.
“It is simply impossible to steward these shared American treasures properly, leaving thousands of lands and waters accessible to the public with no staff on site, even for an emergency,” the groups wrote in a letter.
According to the email, the wildlife refuges being restaffed include Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains, scene of an annual winter elk hunt.
If applicants who won the roughly 300 permits granted this year don’t get to hunt by the end of January, they may have to wait until next winter.
“We’ve had to have patience. Wait and see is always hard,” Rod Smith, a biologist with Oklahoma’s Department of Wildlife Conservation said. “Then … it will make it more difficult next year when we’re carrying people over.”
The U.S. FIsh and Wildlife Service is directing dozens of wildlife refuges to make sure that hunters and some others have access, despite the government shutdown.