Impacts of government shutdown felt at Lake Tahoe |

Impacts of government shutdown felt at Lake Tahoe

Ryan Hoffman |
This sign is posted outside the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit office in South Lake Tahoe.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

As the political stalemate over reopening portions of the federal government continues in Washington, the impacts are being felt at Lake Tahoe, where federal agencies loom large.

Today, Jan. 11, marks the 21st day of the partial government shutdown, which is currently impacting nine federal government departments, including Homeland Security, State, Transportation, Interior and Justice.

This ties it for the longest shutdown in U.S. history. It also marks the first missed payday for federal employees affected by the shutdown.

At the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the shutdown does not have a direct impact, according to spokesperson Tom Lotshaw.

However, it does have an indirect impact on the many projects the TRPA works with in partnership with federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Transportation Department.

“We work in partnership with many federal agencies impacted by this shutdown, so it is impacting and delaying that work with them,” Lotshaw said.

As an example, he pointed to a forest restoration and management effort on Tahoe’s West Shore.

Forest management and the closing of the U.S. Forest Service, which falls within the Department of Agriculture, is perhaps the largest impact at Lake Tahoe.

The Forest Service is responsible for managing more than 154,851 acres, or approximately 78 percent of the area around the Lake Tahoe.

It’s unclear how many local employees are being impacted by the shutdown.

An email to a local Forest Service official was met with an automatic “out of office” reply due to the shutdown.

A spokesperson out of the national office said the agency is assessing and prioritizing programs that it can provide during the shutdown, but specifics as to the local situation are unavailable.

“We are unable to speculate on specific impacts — to include employee number breakdowns as you are asking — while the government shutdown is ongoing and ever-changing.”

The local Forest Service was facing staffing issues, which lead to the temporary closure of the office in Incline Village, prior to the government shutdown.

The primary office in South Lake Tahoe is currently closed with signs posted noting that the office will reopen once federal funding is restored.

While winter is a slower time of year in some regards, with beaches and other facilities closed for the season, it is an important season for forest management. Specifically, for prescribed burns.

That is because, in part, the wetter conditions are more conducive for controlling burns used to clear growth and fuels. The current shutdown means forestry officials are on the sidelines during a critical time of year.

“Without the federal government being up and running they can’t work (on federal land) and neither can we,” said Keegan Schafer, Zephyr Crew supervisor with the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.

While the Forest Service is responsible for managing its lands, it contracts with individual fire districts to assist with some tasks on federal land. All those operations are currently suspended.

Individual districts, which along with federal and state partners make up the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team, are going forward with burns on non-federal land.

But with such a large portion of the land in Tahoe Basin being under the control of the Forest Service, those efforts can only go so far.

Schafer also worries about the long-term impact heading into the next fire season.

Now is typically the time of year when the Forest Service beings preparation for the coming fire season, including hiring firefighters and other personnel.

Normally Schafer’s phone would be ringing off the hook with reference checks and other hiring inquires. But now it’s pretty much silent.

And with each year seeming to set a new record for fire devastation in California, no agency can afford to be put at a disadvantage, Schafer said.

“This furlough is taking the winds out of their sails.”

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