Federal government closure hits close to home

Casey Risley, manager of the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, feeds young salmon on Friday. Risley is among seven staff members at local fish hatchery who were spared having to take furlough days due to the ongoing government shutdown because operations are not funded through appropriated government dollars.

The Mt. Adams District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest might have closed due to the shutdown of the federal government, but local fish hatcheries are able to maintain full staffing.

On Sept. 30, Mose Jones-Yellin, ranger for the Mt. Adams District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, said his office “went through a pretty orderly shutdown,” but directed all other questions to Tauhir Jones, public information officer. Jones did not respond to phone messages in time for this report.

The national forest is operating under excepted employees, which include line officers and law and fire enforcement.

“We have a brief window to do all of the work necessary to leave our affairs in order and cancel any appointments down the road, so we’re empty at this point,” Jones-Yellin said.

The Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, including Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, has also been closed. Public access is currently prohibited and fish and wildlife management activities and public programs are also cancelled, accor-ding to a press release.

Calls to the administrative offices at Conboy Lake were unanswered by press time with many voicemail greetings referring to unpaid leave until after Congress approves a budget for Fiscal Year 2014.

Additionally, the government shutdown has suspended all Bur-eau of Land Management (BLM) activities, including the issuing of new oil and gas leases and permits. In Oregon and Washington 1,967 BLM employees have been furloughed with just 27 working through the shutdown, according to a press release by the BLM.

Though the local fish hatcheries technically stem from the Depart-ment of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, none of the funding to operate the hatcheries in the Gorge is appropriated from the federal government.

“It’s one of those weird things. We are federal employees, we follow federal rules and regulations, and we work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it is not taxpayer funded, which is strange, but actually fits the situation very nicely,” said Mark Ahrens, manager of the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery.

According to Cheri Anderson, information and education manager for the Spring Creek and Carson National Fish Hatcheries, funding for the local hatcheries comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through rate payer dollars via the Bonneville Power Administration.

“The bottom line is it’s not appropriated funds,” Anderson said.

The Carson National Fish Hatch-ery has a similar funding source, but Larry Zeigenfuss, hatchery manager, did not know what his staffing situation would look like until the first morning of the shutdown. The five full-time employees have been kept on staff, but the night before Sept. 30 he was worried it would just be him and a fish culturist on staff.

“A lot of decisions were made on short notice,” Zeigenfuss said.

At the Little White Salmon Fish Hatchery, Casey Risley, hatchery manager, is thankful that none of her workers had to be furloughed because in two weeks spawning begins. In the coming weeks she will need to recruit volunteers and borrow workers from other hatcheries to make it through the spawning period.

Risley also said she usually pulls employees from the US Fish and Wildlife office in Portland that usually do administrative work to help during spawning, but most of those workers are on furlough.

“It’s probably the most critical time of the year for us because we have all stages of the life cycle on site,” Risley said.

Caring for and feeding the close to one million young salmon in the holding ponds outside next to the Little White Salmon’s fish ladder is just part of what Risley’s staff has to take care of on a daily basis. The hatchery also operates its own drinking water system and biologists are kept busy with picking through trays of thousands of eggs to ensure any that will not mature are discarded.

“We already have eggs incubating that require nearly daily maintenance and juveniles that require maintenance daily,” Risley said. “There are a lot of moving parts to all of this. Truth be told, if there isn’t someone here keep an eye on things something could break and cause havoc through the rest of the facility.”

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