After our dysfunctional Congress shut down the federal government today, some wildland firefighters were sent home, furloughed at least temporarily without pay, while others continue to work, ready to suppress fires.
The U.S. Forest Service in a Contingency Plan written September 20 expected of their 32,015 employees that 41 percent would continue to work. This includes 9,800 who are engaged in:
- fire suppression activities,
- securing and protecting property at field locations including research facilities,
- managing some timber sale contracts.
An additional 1,400 USFS law enforcement personnel will continue to work.
Forest Service employees are under a gag order, prohibited from speaking about the furlough, how taxpayers’ money is being spent, and how our natural resources are being protected. All inquiries for even the most mundane of questions are being forwarded to their office in Washington, D.C.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture in Washington told us that the decisions about which USFS firefighters would continue to work or be laid off was made by the Regional Fire directors and the Forest Fire Management Officers.
The National Park Service decisions on the other hand are being made at the local level by the Park Superintendents. At Wind Cave NP the entire fire headquarters staff for the Northern Great Plains Area, which supports seven parks, is laid off along with the engine crew at Wind Cave, while the engine crew at Badlands NP will continue to work.
Approximately 75 percent of the firefighters at Yellowstone are being furloughed, but their fire season is winding down.
Some fire management personnel are being told that while they are on furlough they can’t take home their laptop computers or cell phones, but they will be subject to being unfurloughed on two-hour notice if they are needed for an emergency.
in 1995, the last time there was a government shutdown because of a dysfunctional Congress, the firefighters that were furloughed “without pay” actually were paid after the fiasco ended. They received a paid vacation.
The shutdown affects not only government employees, but the closure of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, for example, will result in over 3,500 employees of concessionaires in the parks being laid off.