Summit County’s furloughed White River National Forest employees return to work
The doors of the Dillon Ranger District reopened on Thursday after being locked for more than two weeks.
Inside, employees turned on their computers, listened to phone messages and began the arduous task of catching up on 16 days of missed work resulting from the government shutdown.
The 26 Dillon Ranger District employees are only a portion of the nearly 150 U.S. Forest Service workers returning to their jobs with the White River National Forest.
Heather Provencio, White River National Forest’s deputy forest supervisor, said despite the heavy workload, the atmosphere at the headquarters in Glenwood Springs was a positive one.
“People were anxious to get back to work,” she said. “It didn’t feel quite right to be home. We knew we had a job to do, so it’s nice to be back.”
Only a handful of White River employees worked during the furlough. They were the ones who focus on emergencies and other issues involving life and safety, Provencio said.
The vast majority of employees, including recreation staff, front desk and admin workers, timber contract staff and specialized forest service positions, including wildlife biologists and hydrologists, engineers and archaeologists, were out of work — along with hundreds of thousands of federal employees throughout the country.
The local forest service employees who returned to their jobs Thursday were busy reviewing their workload and getting things back on track.
“Everything has been put on hold for almost three weeks and we are still trying to sort through and prioritize the work,” Provencio said.
Because the White River National Forest attracts so many visitors, many forest service employees concentrated on re-establishing recreation-related resources, she said. “We have the highest recreational visitation of any forest in the nation, so we have a lot of folks focusing on getting those activities back on track.”
Other priorities of concern included making sure ski areas had everything needed from the Forest Service related to their operational plans, and reestablishing timber and stewardship contracts, said Bill Kight, public affairs officer with the White River National Forest.
The White River National Forest has a long-term stewardship contract with a forest management company, Hotchkiss-based West Range Reclamation, that was put on hold during the furlough. Forest service employees are eager to get back on track, Kight said.
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall emphasized the urgency of national forests restarting their stewardship contracts and timber sales.
“Stewardship contracts and timber sales forge critical partnerships between the U.S. Forest Service and private industry. These efforts, which are used to produce timber products and biomass energy, are essential to forest management and to reduce wildfire risks throughout Colorado,” Udall said in a news release. “Although I appreciate the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts to ease the effects of the unfortunate government shutdown on timber operations, it must quickly resume its administration of these contracts today. Jobs are at stake.”
Kight said employees with the White River National Forest were eager to resume their duties and get back to business as usual.
“People who work for the Forest Service are public servants,” he said. “We like to serve the public and that’s our job.”
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