Like other federal agencies, most of the Alaska Region’s 650 Forest Service workers are going on furlough as a result of the Government Shutdown, which began Tuesday. The Forest Service is the biggest federal employer in Petersburg, with about 70 local staffers. Nearly all of them were put on furlough after shutting down both local offices.
Petersburg District Ranger Jason Anderson was one of just a couple employees who was not sent home Tuesday:
“Here in town our role is to go through the steps associated with an orderly shutdown. We’ve had all of our required notices from management this morning to the affected employees and basically what they’re doing is just closing out those last few steps of administrative action and then heading home,” he said.
Anderson said he would be shutting down some staff facilities over the next couple days. Public-use areas, like campgrounds and cabins, remain open. Only Anderson and the agency’s local Law Enforcement Officer will remain on the job.
That means the agency will not be able to provide permitting, cabin reservations, contracting, and other non-emergency services.
“I would love to say that we’re going to continue to provide the services. I believe everyone in this office had the intention and willingness to do so but I think there’s a very clear impression upon us as federally employees that there really is no authority for us to continue providing those services. That baseline that’s assigned to me and our law enforcement officer is really about protecting investment and responding to emergency situations. Beyond that I’ve had to encourage my folks not to come back to the office and volunteer because there are plenty who would try. I appreciate the will but at this point in time we really don’t have the authority of the federal government to provide those services,” said Anderson.
Furloughed workers are not being paid. A majority of those with the Forest Service in Alaska are represented by the National Federation of Federal Employees, local 251. President Ken Dinsmore has heard a lot of concern from his membership.
“Absolutely we are hearing concerns. We’re very concerned about the fact that employees will be without a check for the next who knows how long,” he said.
After the last shutdown in 1996, Congress authorized back-pay for furloughed workers. However Dinsmore says there is no guarantee that will happen again, especially considering the current deadlock.
The union is also worried about the impact on the private sector. According to Dinsmore, existing Forest Service contracts could be suspended because of the government shutdown.
“That would include aspects of timber contracts, any service contracts, those types of contracting that we’re doing where we don’t have an employee available to provide that oversight,” he said.
Including the Forest Service and other agencies, there are more than 2,200 federal employees in Southeast Alaska.