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Partnership needs to trickle up

Posted by Renee Magyar on October 9, 2013

Our partners share some of the effects of the government shutdown on their work and their communities.

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The federal government manages much of the land in the West. Naturally, we and our partners work closely with federal staff towards a shared goal of sustainable land management. As a result of the government shutdown, our partners on the ground are seeing tangible repercussions. 

Wallowa Resources in northeastern Oregon has cancelled a field tour and information exchange on their Lower Joseph Creek forest and watershed restoration project. This will slow down project development. Both the Forest Service's Regional Forester and the State of Oregon consider Lower Joseph Creek a priority for improved land management and job creation in Eastern Oregon. 

Additionally, Nils Christoffersen, Executive Director of Wallowa Resources states, "As many public land community-based organizations also have a considerable financial relationship with US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the shutdown will be impacting payment processes, which will affect cash flows for these small rural organizations. This will hinder the ability to broker or contract work to the private sector in our communities. We won't be able to achieve on the ground restoration and stewardship results."

The Watershed Research and Training Center in Northern California has had to lay off all of their field crews. Approximately 20 people - a large number in a community of just over 2,000 - are now out of work. "Not only are these folks going on unemployment, but they had been working at full tilt in an effort to complete restoration projects this field season, necessitated by the Forest Service's own timelines for spending funds and achieving accomplishments. There will be no way to make up this lost time and our field season momentum has been broken," says Michelle Medley-Daniel, Communications and Development Coordinator at WRTC. 

The WRTC is also unable to move forward on several agreements, grants, and projects that involve their federal partners. This throws a wrench in their ability to deliver on things like rural business development and special events like a prescribed fire training they are working on with the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council and The Nature Conservancy's Fire Learning Network. Depending on how long the shutdown goes on, this could make the training very difficult to pull off, given that many of the training hosts are federal government agencies. That represents a huge lost investment for all of their partners and trainees, and a missed opportunity for improving the health of the region's forests, as no actual prescribed fires can take place.

Gina Knudson, Executive Director of Salmon Valley Stewardship in Salmon, Idaho, shared some of the potential impacts to local recreation opportunities. "Anything requiring a special use permit from the Forest Service has been halted. In these parts that means wilderness river trips down the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers. These spots are popular in the fall for steelhead fishing and chukar partridge hunting trips. Also, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, the local ski resort, needs permits from the Forest Service, and would be unable to open if the shutdown continues." Recreation is an essential part of the economy in the remote Salmon valley, and having to turn away paying customers for a few weeks, or a season, could be devastating.  

Furloughs, layoffs, loss of funding, loss of morale, threatened local economies. These are just a few examples of the widespread effect on the people and land in the rural West. 

The only way to make a system as large and complex as a national government work effectively is to work together. We'd like to see the notions of partnership and collaboration again get a seat at the national table.  A lot of important work depends on it, work that ultimately affects the health of our forests, wildlife, water, small towns, and the people that live in them - the very people by and for whom the government was formed.