Two refuge employees have been working without pay since December – the refuge manager and the federal wildlife officer. With the end of the 35-day partial federal government shutdown in sight, the rest of the refuge staff will likely return to work soon.
The U.S. Senate today passed a short-term bipartisan bill to fund the federal government through Feb. 15, coming one step closer to ending the 35-day partial federal government shutdown. The bill is now before the House, which is expected to pass it today. President Trump will likely sign the bill tonight; the three-week stopgap funding measure would fully reopen federal agencies, including the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is still open during the shutdown. But refuge offices are closed, and only two employees are working: Refuge Manager Susanna Henry and Federal Wildlife Officer Derek Thompson. They have been working without pay since Dec. 26.
As a wildlife officer, Thompson enforces regulations and provides public safety services. This work is particularly important now because two hunts are underway on refuge lands; the Nushagak Peninsula Federal Subsistence Caribou hunt and the moose hunt in game management unit 17A near Togiak. Hunters can still pick up permits for the federal hunt at several tribal offices.
Impacts of the shutdown have been apparent in other refuge activities as well. Educational outreach has stalled; the education specialist was unable to travel to Koliganek to teach students about migratory birds and promote an annual art competition. Principal Deb Forkner said that for the students, this was a letdown.
“They come out and talk to the students about endangered species and what the bird calendar is going to be about each year," Forkner said. "They always bring door prizes and just do education about the birds in the area. [The students] were certainly disappointed. They know the people that come out and they see them every year, and they look forward to those visits.”
Bristol Alliance Fuels and Nushagak Electric are providing fuel and electricity to the refuge without immediate reimbursement.
Other regional entities have been feeling the shutdown’s squeeze as well. The Bristol Bay Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council meeting, originally scheduled for February 12 in Naknek, has been postponed. It will be rescheduled once the government reopens. The Alaska Peninsula Becharof National Wildlife Refuge is accessible but has only excepted personnel working without pay. And Katmai National Park and Peninsula has no services; according to a notice posted on the park’s Facebook page, although areas of the park are open, that could change without notice.
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