More details emerge on refuges reopening during shutdown

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using previously appropriated funds and recreational fee dollars to partially re-staff some National Wildlife Refuges for 30 days during the ongoing partial government shutdown.

In addition to partially re-opening those 38 refuges, the Service is also deploying these funds to allow it to address large construction projects, important fire safety related tasks and the drafting of time-sensitive hunting and fishing regulations.

The USFWS intends to continue work on infrastructure projects, most in excess of $500,000, to address access and maintenance needs. It will also move forward with addressing storm damage from recent hurricanes. Construction projects and maintenance will be funded by previously appropriated dollars, while funding for storm damage projects will come from emergency funds provided in the 2018 hurricane supplemental funding bill.

Carryover funds will also be used to return employees to paid status to begin developing plans for prescribed burns for the upcoming fire season, as well as to continue work on proposed regulations regarding hunting and fishing on refuges. With set deadlines in place to develop such regulations, the Service will use these funds to continue their work. The Service has previously highlighted efforts to streamline their regulations and ensure they align with state regulations.

While all refuges closed when the shutdown began in December, the USFWS chose 38 of them to partially re-staff after the shutdown continued longer than first expected and detrimental effects began to be seen on refuges. The re-opened refuges were chosen based on several criteria, including typical visitation in January, recreational opportunities such as hunting that would otherwise be limited or unavailable during the shutdown and resource management and protection. The USFWS has updated its shutdown plan accordingly.

There is no indication from the USFWS what will happen if additional funding has not been appropriated by the end of the 30 days, which will occur on Feb. 8.

Header Image: While some refuges have brought back staff, others like, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, are allowing public access but remain unstaffed. © Stephen Little