Because we look at all news with an eye toward the birds, we’re watching closely how the Federal government shutdown will impact birds. While one might think that birds operate in a separate universe from human affairs, the truth is quite different. Several different Federal agencies in immensely involved in maintaining and restoring vital habitat, and protecting endangered species. This is just a first look at the problem.
Our first concern has to do with the Department of Interior, which includes the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and many other agencies that benefit birds either directly or indirectly. Our understanding is that the only functions which will continue under the shutdown are law enforcement and property protection. This means that functions such as habitat restoration and species monitoring are likely suspended.
Another big concern in refuge management. Our understanding is that all refuge functions are shutting down, except for minimal staff oversight. That means the gates are closed, and that nothing will be done to ensure that the ecological functions of the refuges are in working order. What does this mean? Well, let’s take what happened recently in the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge as an example. There, thousands of birds were impacts from avian botulism after limited water supplies cause the birds to congregate in the few places where water existed. With no staff on hand, incidents like this could happen without anyone to take action to prevent them.
Audubon California Policy Director Dan Taylor said he was concerned about how the reduction in services would impact fall migration.
“This is such a critical time for California to provide resources, comfort and support for millions of migrating birds, it’s a little scary to think that conservation efforts at our refuges are basically abandoned,” he said.
One of the saddest stories of the shutdown is that today is the 123rd birthday of Yosemite National Park – but the facility isn’t open because of the funding battles in Washington, D.C. In fact, all of our national parks and other federally-run recreational facilities are offline. While it is truly sad that people won’t have the opportunity to interact with nature at these spectacular places, it is important to also recognize that a great deal of conservation happens at these places, including habitat restoration, species protection, and much more.