By Jim Kurth
Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
Things seem like they are getting back to normal after the 16-day government shutdown. I know that was a stressful time for all.
For U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, I'm not sure who was more frustrated -- those few who worked or the majority who was told they couldn't. Volunteers and Friends weren't allowed to help. People couldn't visit and enjoy their national wildlife refuges. Hunting trips were missed. Wildlife festivals and special events, including National Wildlife Refuge Week, were cancelled. Lots of important work didn't get done.
Let's hope we never do that again.
Perhaps the only good thing was welcoming people back. Service Director Dan Ashe was at our Headquarters Office early that day, meeting employees at the door and thanking them for the work they do. I know that scene was repeated over and over throughout the Refuge System. As we get back to work, we are faced with uncertain and challenging times.
Just before the shutdown, I sent Director Ashe a memo highlighting the effects of the budget cuts we have endured over the past three years. It pained me to describe how we were doing far less prescribed burning, wetland restoration and invasive species work than we had in the past. Our volunteer hours dropped by 8 percent because of inability to support them. Visitation continues to increase, putting additional pressure on employees to provide services. It doesn't appear that budgets are going to improve anytime soon. So while we hope for the best, we make plans for additional cuts.
Friends of wildlife refuges have probably seen these changes on your own refuge: more visitors, more demand, less staff to do the work. You have probably stepped forward to carry more tasks, whether welcoming visitors, helping with wildlife surveys, or getting on a tractor. We can't do our work without you. Not only do you bring innovative ideas, but you bring a public voice for the Refuge System.
In my 34 years of working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I can hardly think of a time when Friends’ perspective and voices have been needed more. Thanks for all you do for the Refuge System.
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