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Refuge staff furloughed for government shutdown

“The refuge is effectively shut down for all activities, period,” said Chad Zorn, Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge manager.

10/09/13 (Wed)

Scenic viewing not allowed . . . Even the scenic observation point
near the Des Lacs Refuge headquarters across the lake from Kenmare
was ordered to be closed during the duration of the government shutdown.
Local refuge officials were ordered to prevent public use of the refuge,
including all activities such as bow hunting, wildlife observation and hiking.

By Caroline Downs

“The refuge is effectively shut down for all activities, period,” said Chad Zorn, Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge manager.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service suspended activities at the Des Lacs NWR--and the rest of the nation’s 561 national wildlife refuges--October 1st as the federal government closed for business while Congress attempts to pass an appropriations bill in both chambers. As of October 7th, no bill was approved.

The USFWS Office of Communications in Washington, D.C. spelled out details of the shutdown. “All activities on Refuge lands and in public buildings are canceled,” read one point on a press release dated October 1st. “This includes hunting and fishing activities on Refuge lands.”

Zorn included hunting on his list of activities now unavailable to visitors at the Des Lacs NWR. “The refuge is closed to hunting, and that means bow hunting is not allowed,” he said. “The wildlife observation point [on the lake west of Kenmare], the Auto Tour Route and the hiking trails are closed.”

Gates have been closed and barricades erected to prevent public use of the refuge. “At least, the tourist and birding season for the Des Lacs refuge is over for the year,” Zorn said. “Now, we have hunters coming from out of state to hunt on the waterfowl production areas.”

Over 150 of those sites in northwestern North Dakota, known as WPAs, are open for hunting migratory waterfowl while the refuges themselves are not.

Except this year.

“Any land administered by the federal government is closed,” Zorn said, “so any hunter coming to the area may be impacted.”

Zorn is one of a handful of USFWS employees in the area who continues working, although his entire staff at the Des Lacs NWR headquarters is furloughed during the shutdown.

“I’m one of what they call the ‘excepted’ employees,” he said.

He explained federal wildlife officers with law enforcement certification are expected to continue in their positions, using enforcement measures to safeguard themselves, other people, the natural resources and the facilities under their management.

In Zorn’s case, that means he monitors the Des Lacs NWR roads and buildings. He noted Lostwood NWR manager Kory Richardson, Upper Souris NWR manager Tom Pabian and USFWS law enforcement officer Tighe Teets are working in that capacity as well.

“So far, it’s been pretty quiet,” said Zorn.

The refuge’s website and the headquarters’ phone system have been essentially turned off. Zorn said it’s often difficult for anyone to contact him, although he checks phone and other messages left at the office as he monitors the refuge every day.

Haunted Hayride
shutdown, too
One of the federal government shutdown’s biggest impacts on Kenmare might be the cancellation of the popular Haunted Hayride. During recent years, the event has attracted nearly 100 children and their parents for a program, snacks and some “haunting” laughs while participants enjoy an evening ride along the Boat Dock Road northwest of Kenmare.

“I’ve talked to the Kenmare Association of Commerce about it,” Zorn said. Even if a group of private individuals wanted to organize the hayride, he would not be permitted to open the refuge gate to provide access to the road. “We can’t even advertise the event. Right now, the plans are to see how long the shutdown lasts. We may be able to do the hayride later in October, depending on the dates available and the weather.”

Construction is
only activity on refuge
Construction work to replace the old Brickyard Bridge south of Kenmare, just off the scenic auto tour route (see story on page 14), appears to be the only place any activity is occurring on the Des Lacs NWR. That is, except for the migratory ducks and geese that have started to trickle in from their northern feeding grounds.

Zorn will continue his solo operation at the refuge. He noted North Dakota Game & Fish Department game warden Jim Burud is still working from the refuge, too. As a state employee, Burud’s position is not subject to the federal shutdown mandates although he maintains an office at refuge headquarters.

“So far, everything has been going pretty smoothly,” Zorn said about his refuge rounds. “We’re not having any issues.”

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