By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
Last week, the government shutdown caused federal organization to furlough thousands of employees, including dozens at the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park in Woodstock.
While Democrats and Republicans still struggle to reach an agreement for the new fiscal year spending budget, local organizations anticipate the consequences of a long-term government shutdown.
“The federal shutdown hits Vermont during one of the state’s busiest seasons for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing,” Commissioner of Vermont Fish and Wildlife Patrick Berry, said in a press release. “This is a time when rural communities across Vermont really count on the local revenues generated by hunting and fishing activities.”
More than 25,000 acres of remote forested land in the Northeast Kingdom is shutdown, as well as additional land in Putney.
“We’re not happy about it,” said Director of Wildlife at Vermont Fish and Wildlife Mark Scott. “We feel that we work in partnership with our federal government. We have joint management responsibility… I understand closing buildings because you need staff to run those, but the big deep woods, I’m not sure what the issue is there.”
Vermont currently has several hunting seasons open, including moose archery, bear, ruffed grouse, woodcock, rabbit, and squirrel — all of which normally occur on refuge lands. Trout fishing waters on the refuges, which typically are open until Oct. 31, are also off limits.
Vermont Fish and Wildlife receives about $3 million a year in federal grants that help pay for research, protection of species and land management programs. The department has enough funds to go through the next few weeks, but a long-term shutdown could be problematic.
“If this was long-term it could have very serious ramifications,” Scott said.
Local farmers may also be affected in the event of a long-term government shutdown.
While United States Department of Agriculture, which keeps statistics on exports and crop reports and sets prices for each given week, remains closed, there is no federal price regulation.
“It could cause gyrations in our milk prices and gyrations in our grain prices,” said Agri-Mark Director and Woodstock farmer Paul Doton. “Speculators will be right out there playing games.”
Funding for Milk Income Lost Contract is also on hold. MILC is the insurance program for dairy farmers that kicks in when the cost of producing the milk exceeds the income.
“There is no safety net,” said Alison Kosakowski, Marketing and Communications Director at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
The Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park sees about 20,000 visitors during fall foliage season. The organization has furloughed 30 employees and has been closed for over a week in the height of its busiest season.
All park activities, school buses and tour buses have been canceled.
Billings Farm and Museum, which is across the road from the park, remains open, but it’s been affected by the park’s closure.
“Having the name Billings in both names is very confusing,” said Public Relations Coordinator Susan Plump. “People just think that we’re both shut down.”
Plump has spent the week shielding phone calls from confused customers. She said there are still bus tours coming in and the museum still saw more than 1,000 people last weekend, but visitation has been affected.
“It would be interesting to see what would happen if these (senators) weren’t getting paid like these government workers aren’t getting paid,” Doton said. “That might move things along a little quicker.”