USFWS opens 38 refuges despite government shutdown

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using previously appropriated — but unspent — money to reopen and re-staff 38 priority refuges around the country, despite the ongoing partial government shutdown.

The $2.5 million from carryover funds and fee revenue will only last about 30 days and will go to providing staff at just 38 refuges. The refuge system comprises more than 560 refuges, so the move to reopen will affect only a small percentage of refuges. Across the country, 244 staff will be removed from furlough and called back to work.

The 38 refuges to be staffed were chosen based on several factors, 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 additional staff will “support scheduled events, other public uses, and resource management at each refuge,” according to an email to Service employees from USFWS Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson.

Of the refuge system’s eight regions, all except for the Alaska region will see some refuges re-staffed, with up to eight refuges opening in both the California-Nevada region and the Southwest region.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association, a non-profit organization that advocates for refuges, opposes the plan to open select refuges to the public during the shutdown.

The association is concerned that only some workers will be paid (federal law enforcement workers, who have been working without pay throughout the shutdown, will continue to work without pay). It also highlighted the small percentage of refuges that are being reopened and noted the danger of prioritizing some refuges over others.

National parks have also made an effort to soften the public impact of the shutdown, using funds from visitor fees to bring staff back into parks where unsupervised visitor use is impacting resources and facilities.

Header Image: A great egret (Ardea alba) at Loxachatchee refuge in Florida, which will reopen using fee money. ©Judy Gallagher