Some staff members have returned to wildlife refuges in the Midwest after being furloughed from work for nearly three weeks due to the partial federal government shutdown.
As of Wednesday, two staff members have returned to DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in western Iowa to help with things like managed hunts and environmental education. The two staff members will also look after Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska, as DeSoto and Boyer Chute are managed together.
Iowa has seven national wildlife refuges. DeSoto is, so far, the state’s only refuge in which staff other than a manager, maintenance person and enforcement personnel, have been allowed to come back to work.
Though wildlife refuges have remained open during the shutdown, visitor centers have been closed. With the limited staff returning, DeSoto's visitor center will be open to the general public on Fridays and Saturdays.
Chuck Traxler, the assistant regional director of external affairs for U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Midwest Region, says there were several criteria involved in bringing staff back to the refuges.
“What we focused on were kind of the visitation, event usage and any critical resource management issues,” Traxler said. “So they’re not fully staffed by any stretch, but it is enough to focus on some of those priority activities.”
The agency is using approximately $2.5 million in funding that carried over from the last budget year to bring staff back to 38 refuges around the country. Traxler said Fish and Wildlife is "confident at a national level" that the money will be able to sustain services and staff for at least 30 days.
In Fish & Wildlife’s Midwest region, which covers eight states including Iowa, 13 people have been brought back on board to five refuge complexes.
“We’re happy to be able to support some of these activities on the refuges in the Midwest,” Traxler said. “That’s our job, that’s what we love to do: serve the public and protect natural resources.”
He continued, “It’s great to have a few folks back to be able to help with that a little bit more.”
DeSoto is the only refuge in the Midwest region that charges an entrance fee, which visitors have not had to pay during the shutdown. Traxler said staff will start collecting fees again.