US orders refuges to staff for hunters despite shutdown

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WASHINGTON | The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will direct dozens of wildlife refuges to come back to work to make sure hunters and others have access despite the government shutdown, according to an email obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Signs announce the visitor center at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri Valley, Iowa, is closed, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, as the partial government shutdown continues. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing dozens of wildlife refuges to return to work to make sure hunters and others have access despite the government shutdown, according to an email obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The limited restaffing of 38 wildlife refuges is upsetting wildlife groups, who accuse the Trump administration of attempting to minimize the public impact of the more than two-week-old shutdown to limit the political impact for President Donald Trump. Trump and Democrats in Congress are locked at an impasse over Trump’s demand for billions of dollars for a wall on the southern U.S. border.

In an email sent Tuesday afternoon, Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, cites “opportunities, including hunting” that are being lost in the shutdown.

Everson advises in the email that 38 wildlife refuges around the country will return some furloughed staff using carryover funds.

“While many of our refuges have remained accessible, but not staffed, the extended lapse in federal appropriations is impacting both our ability to serve the public and to protect natural resources under our care in some places,” Everson wrote.

“For the next 30 days, using previously appropriated funds, we will bring back a limited number of employees to resume work on high priority projects and activities that support the Service’s mission and meet the public’s desire for access to Refuge lands,” Everson said in the email.

Everson did not immediately respond to an email from the AP seeking comment.

The shutdown has forced federal agencies to stop paychecks for hundreds of thousands of government employees, limiting government services to only the most pressing, such as Transportation Security Administration workers providing security at airports without pay.