Wolf Point Herald

Shutdown Affects Montana Sites, Agencies

The U.S. federal government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, has affected several agencies around Montana.


One of the biggest impacts of the shutdown was the closing of several landmarks and parks in northeast Montana and across the United States.


In a press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, national wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas and other ecological services will be closed across the nation. This includes all public recreation and hunting activities on refuges. National parks and monuments have also been closed across the country.


There will be limited function of some services, such as those that respond to emergencies to protect human life and property.


The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge roads will be open, but wardens will be patrolling the lands and will ask people to leave. The wardens are exempt from the shutdown because they are protecting government property.


The Bureau of Land Management offices in Montana and the Dakotas have suspended most of their services with the exception of law enforcement and emergency response functions.


According to a press release from the bureau, about 4,000 recreation facilities will be closed including the Garnet Ghost Town visitor’s center, the Shepherd Ah Nei Recreation Area and the Chain-of-Lakes Complex.


The bureau will maintain minimum staff to ensure continued state management of the nation’s energy resources and will furlough 712 employees. Once the initial shutdown procedures are completed, the bureau will maintain 18 exempted employees with an additional 80 employees on call.


The issuing of new oil and gas permits and leases will stop and limited work will continue to ensure safe operations of domestic energy supplies, including limited inspection and emergency response for more than 5,700 oil and gas wells for federal and Indian Trust minerals in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.


Other suspended activities and services include: Endangered Species Act and cultural clearances, range management restoration, wild horse and burro adoptions and timber sales.


The National Weather Service will continue to monitor the weather and issue warnings, but their offices are closed.


The Fort Peck Marina will remain open because it is privately owned; however, they will not receive any Corps’ assistance during the shutdown.


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-operated campgrounds and parks will be closed nationwide.


Visitors who would like more information are encouraged to call their local park office or the USACE district office. They can also look for information on their local district’s website.


Campers at sites that are closed prior to the shutdown were required to vacate the grounds no later than 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2. They can also elect to leave their campsite reservations open for use after the shutdown is lifted. They will receive a refund for any unused portion of their reservations.


Campers who have reservations while the shutdown is in effect may cancel their reservations for a full refund or they can decide to leave their reservation open for use after the shutdown is lifted and request a refund for any “unused portion of the reservation due to the shutdown.” They can contact the reservation customer service for more information.


James R. Hannon, USACE Chief of Operations in Washington D.C., stated the USACE understands the impacts and they will reopen the facilities as soon as the shutdown is lifted.


Montana Farmers, Ranchers Affected By Shutdown

In addition the landmarks and refuges, farmers will be affected by the shutdown.


In Great Falls, Montana Farmers Union president Allen Merrill issued statement that farmers and ranchers may not be able to receive any loans for programs for which they have applied. He also said that payments for loans already approved could be delayed, which would be problematic for beginning farmers and ranchers.


Merrill also said that according to the Farm Service Agency, many services will be delayed or interrupted for farmers, ranchers and associated customers.


He said Montana’s Congressional delegation will not have the staff available to answer questions, but Montana citizens can contact them through “their Washington, D.C., mechanisms.”


The union urges the citizens of Montana to express their concerns.


Other Agencies, Programs

Several government services and programs will also be suspended during the shutdown, including the United States Department of Agriculture,


One USDA program that faces danger is Women, Infants and Children, a program that helps pregnant mothers and families buy food if they are poor and face nutritional risk.


There will be WIC benefits for Montana families in October, but the agency will have to wait until next month to see if they will continue with the program. 


Local agencies affected by the shutdown include the Fort Peck Agency for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. All but three of their workers are furloughed.


Indian Health Services will remain open.


Other law enforcement agencies and health services will also remain open.


The Montana Department of Labor and Industry issued a release saying that federal employees who are furloughed due to the shutdown are eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits, but those who receive back pay will have to repay their benefits. Employees who have been affected by the shutdown can file for benefits online at www.ui4u.mt.gov.


Many federal sites will not be maintained during the shutdown. Anyone who would like more information can visit www.DOI.gov/shutdown, oneINTERIOR.gov or OPM.gov.


The U.S. Postal Service is not affected by the shutdown because they have their own budget.