There’s no one answering the phone at the Glasgow Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management.
“No one is available to take your call because of the government shutdown,” a recorded message says.
A recording at the USDA office intones, “This office is currently closed due to the lapse in federal government funding.” The voice says you may leave a message. “Your voice mail will be returned as soon as funding is restored.”
There might be no posted county commodity prices in The Courier, which the FSA provides, for the duration of the shutdown.
The budget stalemate in Washington has had immediate impacts, even in the hinterlands. The funding for “non-essential” federal employees came to an abrupt halt Monday night. After midnight, most workers were furloughed for an indefinite time while Congress works out its internal power struggle.
In statements prepared for this eventuality, federal agencies informed the public of the new circumstances. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has closed wildlife refuges to public use, which includes hunting. Refuges in this area are the Charles M. Russell, Bowdoin and Medicine Lake, with its nearby waterfowl production areas. The CMR has many access roads, a mix of public and private, so it can’t be shut, but the gates are closed at Bowdoin, according to Aaron Johnson, station manager at the CMR. He and one other person were at work on Tuesday.
“It’s big deal, an unfortunate deal,” Johnson said. “It’s not any fun, sending people home, the public or employees.”
John Daggett, the Corps of Engineers’ project manager at Fort Peck Dam, said no one is furloughed right now, but their continuing funds will expire next week and they are still determining who will be deemed essential and who will have an enforced vacation.
The Corps has closed the Fort Peck Interpretive Center and the Downstream Campground. They are signing their boat ramps closed, although they are not patrolling them, Daggett said. This includes the ramps at The Pines, Bone Trail, Fourchette Bay, Crooked Creek, Devil’s Creek and Rock Creek.
There are private ramps at Fort Peck Lake, such as the Fort Peck Marina, and Hell Creek State Park, which are not affected by the federal government shutdown.
Besides sending the office staff home, the BLM has closed all established campsites and boat ramps. Actually this does not strike Valley County very hard. There are no BLM boat ramps here and only one campsite, the Troika on Willow Creek Road, which will not be provided with any maintenance.
There is no restriction on hunting or fishing on BLM land, according to BLM ranger Alex Burke, who as a law enforcement officer is still on duty.
Law enforcement and emergency response functions do continue. Federal health and safety agencies are still in operation. The VA Clinic in Glasgow is open. The National Weather Service is performing essential services but not outreach, such as school talks.
“We are here. We are issuing forecasts and warnings,” said Tanja Fransen, warning coordination meteorologist in the Glasgow office.
The U.S. Postal Service, of course, is an independent agency, though overseen by the government, and is not shut down.
At the moment, essential federal employees are working unpaid, in the expectation that they will be paid for their time when Congress resumes funding again, as happened after the 1994-95 government shutdown.
Uncertainty about campground reservations might ruin a vacation, but some livelihoods are on the line, as Montana Farmers Union president Alan Merrill expressed in a statement Tuesday.
“The U.S. Congress’ inability to agree on how to fund the government – in addition to the expiration of the current farm bill – causes uncertainty and potential hardship across the country.
“Depending on how long the shutdown lasts, farmers and ranchers will not be able to receive any loans for programs they have applied for and it is possible that payments for loans already approved could be delayed. This delay could be especially problematic for beginning farmers and ranchers.
“According to the Farm Service Agency, no funding means that many services will be delayed or interrupted for farmers, ranchers, and associated customers. For example, this includes, but is not limited to, FSA’s commodity price support activities and commodity loans, farm loans, disaster assistance, and conservation programs.
“We have learned that Montana’s congressional delegation will not have staff available in Montana to answer questions or for any other constituent services. They can, however, be contacted through their Washington, D.C ., mechanisms. We urge all Montanans to express their concerns.”