The Shutdown at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
A Message from the Board of the Friends of Hart Mountain
On December 26, 2018, in accordance with the shutdown of the Federal Government, “all units of the National Wildlife Refuge System nationwide [were] closed to public visitation and use, subject to the conditions and exceptions” that were described in the notice. (See National Wildlife Refuge System Closure Determination and Notice.) According to the Notice, the small number of “excepted personnel” who were to remain on duty would be insufficient to provide the full range of resource protection and public services. Therefore, the National Wildlife Refuge System was to remain largely closed to the public. However, activities that did not require refuge employees would be allowed to continue.
During this period most employees will be furloughed–that is they will not be allowed to work and will not receive their salaries unless Congress and the President approve back pay. Personnel performing “essential activities for the protection of life and property and for law enforcement” are designated “excepted” and will continue to perform only essential duties without pay until the shutdown ends. Those whose activities are funded by obligations incurred in an earlier year or by multi-year or permanent appropriations are designated “exempt” and will continue working and be paid on time. For Region One, which comprises Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Hawai’i, seventy-seven positions are deemed “excepted.” Further details can be found in the Contingency Plan in The Event of A Lapse in Appropriations.
photo by Bill Crowell
What then does all this mean for Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge? Some examples:
The refuge website’s Shutdown Notice states, “Due to the lapse in federal appropriations, this website will not be updated until further notice. Where public access to refuge lands does not require the presence of a federal employee or contractor, activities on refuge lands will be allowed to continue on the same terms as before the appropriations lapse. Any entry onto Refuge System property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor's sole risk.”
Only three positions in the Sheldon-Hart Complex have been designated “excepted”–the Project Leader and one maintenance specialist on Hart Mountain and the Refuge Manager for Sheldon refuge.
The process to hire several vacant positions has been put on hold during the shutdown. While selections for the Hart Mountain Refuge Manager and the Equipment Operator for Sheldon NWR were completed prior to the shutdown, start dates for these new employees will be delayed if the shutdown continues. Recruitment actions for several other positions remain pending until the shutdown ends. During this period, it will not be possible to advertise vacancies or contact possible candidates for empty position including seasonal Biological Technicians. This will adversely impact important ongoing projects that rely on long-term monitoring including sage grouse lek counts and research. There is the possibility that by the time the shutdown ends promising candidates will have found employment elsewhere.
Seed for aerial application on the Willow Creek burn site that is sitting in the warehouse is in danger of suffering diminishing capacity for successful germination. More importantly, successful germination depends on the application of seed prior to the favorable moisture conditions in the Spring.
Some thirty-eight refuges nationwide have been arbitrarily “reactivated”–three of them in the Northwest. Hart is not among these.
Finally, we should not forget the toll the shutdown is taking on refuge staff, their families, and their colleagues in the natural resource agencies (the BLM, US Forest Service, etc.). While often dismissed as “bureaucrats,” anyone who has participated in a Friends restoration project, species monitoring, or fence pull on the refuge knows them to be dedicated public servants who put in long hours with no overtime. Even in the present situation, they cannot accept “gifts” exceeding $25 and management is constrained from talking with furloughed staff to determine their situations and needs. January 29 will mark their second missed payday.
The Friends of Hart Mountain NAR thanks you for your support of the refuge and its work. We hope that you will help others to better understand not only the beauty of the refuge but also the refuge’s broader importance to the region’s history, economy and natural distinction.
Summary of the 2018 Mule Deer Survey:
a Friends of Hart Mountain Member Perspective
Friends volunteer, Gary Fasnacht, provides a summary of the Mule Deer survey from Fall 2018.
- photo by Bill Crowell
One of the advantages of being a member of Friends of Hart Mountain (FOHM) is the opportunity to participate in several events at the Refuge with the ability to stay in the bunk house instead of camping out.
Two of the recurring events are the Greater Sage-Grouse lek count in the spring, and in late November, the Mule Deer survey.
This year the Mule Deer Survey was conducted by seven FOHM volunteers from November 26 to December 1. The teams located the Mule Deer with binoculars and spotting scopes from vehicles and while hiking.
Friends volunteers discuss survey plans.
- photo by Bill Crowell
The elevation of the Refuge varies from 4470’ MSL at the base of Poker Jim Ridge to Warner Peak at 8017’MSL. The terrain is mostly open sage brush and bitterbrush rolling hills with Mountain Mahogany and Juniper trees in the higher areas. There are several valleys with Ponderosa Pine and creek bottoms with Aspen stands. The western edge of the Refuge has steep, rocky cliffs that drop down to the Warner Valley.
Each group of deer found was listed on a survey form giving date and time as well as the GPS coordinates of the observer and distance from the animals. The number of deer in the group was listed, and the number of bucks, does, and fawns, if able to determine. For bucks the number of antler points was noted.
Weather during our survey ranged from clear and 18* F, to cloudy with a high in the upper 30*s. There were occasional snow showers and usually, a 10 to 15 MPH wind. Snow accumulation was from 1 inch in the lower elevations to about 5 inches on Hart Mountain Ridge.
Deer were located from the lowest part of the Refuge near Hart Lake to the Higher altitude near Hart Mountain. Several lone does were surveyed but most deer were in groups. We saw about as many deer while hiking as we did while driving. A total of 66 deer were surveyed in 10 different groups, plus the two lone does.
The purpose of the survey was to help determine the buck / doe / fawn ratio of mule deer population and not to locate and count all the deer on the Refuge. The result of our survey will be combined with input from others and used to determine herd composition for comparison with previous years.
- photo by Gary Fasnacht
In addition to looking for deer, the survey offered a chance to explore areas of the Refuge not usually seen, observe other birds and animals, and to see and photograph a few of the many petroglyphs! One seems to evidence an earlier deer survey.