By Ann McCreary
With the arrival of hunting season this weekend, Methow Valley District Ranger Mike Liu said he would be patrolling national forest lands around the valley himself, unless the federal government has opened for business again.
Most U.S. Forest Service employees in the Methow Valley Ranger District have been furloughed since Oct. 1, when funding for federal agencies was held up by the House of Representatives.
A skeleton staff retained last week in the Methow Valley Ranger District, the valley’s largest federal employer, was further reduced this week. Only Liu, a fire management officer and a law enforcement officer remained on duty as “exempted employees” still allowed to work during the shutdown.
“The only thing I’m allowed to do is work related to protecting life and property,” said Liu. “During the government shutdown the few of us still here are patrolling facilities and making sure they’re secure. Yesterday I spent all day checking out facilities in the campgrounds.”
The 25 campgrounds in the Methow Valley Ranger District were closed last week, as were 13 trailheads.
“I think many hunters will find their favorite campgrounds on the national forest closed,” Liu said. “Water is turned off, dumpster services suspended, toilets are locked.”
Hunters will need to find camping in state parks, private campgrounds or dispersed campsites on the national forest, Liu said.
“Hunting season is definitely one of our busiest times of the year. Clearly, it’s not very good timing,” he said.
Liu asked that people camping in dispersed sites choose a previously used campground, make sure campfires are under control and thoroughly extinguished, avoid camping within 200 feet of streams and lakes, feed weed-free hay to stock, and avoid damaging vegetation.
The district’s fire management officer is continuing to check areas of recent controlled burns, Liu said. “We have had several phone calls from the public seeing smoke and thinking we’re not monitoring it,” he said.
Although trailhead facilities are closed, the trails on national forest lands are still open to hikers, Liu said.
Staff at the North Cascades National Park Service Complex has been reduced from 138 employees to 18, said Ken Hires, public information officer. Still working are law enforcement, maintenance and fire staff, and the park superintendent.
Most of them, including himself, are only working a couple of hours a day, Hires said. “Basically all our facilities and all our lands are closed,” he said. The closure includes park trails.
As the government shutdown continued into its second week, Liu and Hires both had a similar request: “be patient.”
“Be patient with those of us still working who are patrolling the woods,” Liu said.