The federal government shutdown forced a local migratory bird and wildlife habitat and reserve to cancel plans this month — and the organization faces cancellations in February, too.
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Sherman cancelled its scheduled activities for the month of January, and if the shutdown — which surpassed the 21-day shutdown of 1995-1996 as the longest in U.S. government history — continues, the refuge may have to cancel February activities.
Hagerman is governed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is an agency of the federal government within the U.S. Department of Interior.
“The most significant impact to the refuge has been the closing of the visitor center and cancellation of outreach programs and events, including Second Saturday Nature Programs and the Refuge Rocks kids programs,” Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley said in an email. “Tram tours have also been cancelled, but due to flooding, those would not have been possible anyway.”
During the winter months around 1,500 visitors typically enter the visitor center.
“During the shutdown, none of the refuge roads, Day Use Area restrooms, trash receptacles, or bank fishing areas are being maintained,” her email said. “The visitor center is closed and no restrooms are available there. The hiking trails that remain accessible by vehicle are open for hiking including Meadow Pond Trail, Harris Creek Trail, and Haller’s Haven Trail.”
While the refuge remains open during daylight hours, due to recent flooding, not all the gravel roads are safe for travel.
“Approximately 3.5 miles of gravel roads on the refuge were recently flooded by the rise of Lake Texoma following heavy rain,” Whaley said. “Portions of Refuge Road and Bennett Lane and all 2.2 miles of Wildlife Drive were impacted including the loss of gravel material, erosion due to wind and wave action, and debris including large logs on the roadways. Even when the flooding recedes, these roads will remain closed until the shutdown is over and staff that return to work have an opportunity to make needed repairs to ensure public safety and long-term integrity of the roads.”
The refuge has two staff members that are required to report to work and protect resources as best they can.
Of the individuals that maintain the lands monthly, the two that will be available during the shutdown are the site manager and a federal wildlife officer, who patrols visitor activities to ensure safety of personnel, resources, and facilities.
“In addition, law enforcement officers with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Grayson County Sheriff’s Office travel throughout the refuge on a regular basis as usual and take action as deemed necessary, or notify the refuge officer of any suspicious or illegal activity,” Whaley said.
This weekend, there will be an outdoor photo shoot of the Sunday blood moon on the site.
“With roads and trails not being maintained, their conditions may have deteriorated,” Whaley said. “Anyone who visits the refuge while the shutdown is on-going is advised to use extreme caution as FWS personnel will not be available to provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response on refuge property. Any entry onto Refuge System property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk.”
One of the programs affected by the shut down include the second Saturday program on ethnobotany which was canceled with the hope that it can be rescheduled. The program was to be presented by Ian Thompson and was supposed to cover ethnobotany and how environmental issues affected native peoples. The refuge has also cancelled its monthly program for children, Refuge Rocks, — held the third Saturday of the month — and the Friends of Hagerman photo club meeting.
“All of these programs are under the direction of volunteers with the Friends of Hagerman,” Friends of Hagerman President Becky Goodman said.
As for money, funding for the fiscal year 2019 had not been allocated as of the day the government lapsed.
“However, it is not uncommon to not have received annual funding by January,” Whaley said. “We are instructed to spend at the funding level the prior fiscal year until we receive a budget, then make adjustments as needed.”
While the funds the Friends of Hagerman obtains for its programs has not been affect, the government shutdown has affected money the Friends of Hagerman accesses.
“We have our own funds for our programs that we obtain through fundraising and memberships,” Goodman said. “We also obtain revenue from Nature Nook sales, which are significantly impacted by the shutdown.”
The government shut down, Goodman said, is negatively affecting the Friends of Hagerman’s ability to be able to plan for future programs and initiatives.
“We don’t have access to a majority of the Refuge staff since they are furloughed, so we are falling behind,” she said.
As for the grounds, there are some activities that the Friends of Hagerman helped with on the grounds that are not getting the attention they would have if the government had not been shut down.
“We are unable to work on the picnic pavilion, ADA-accessible fishing dock, debris clearing, trail maintenance, bluebird nest box maintenance and butterfly garden,” Goodman said. “These are ongoing projects, which help make the refuge a great place to visit.”
Even if the shutdown ends fairly quickly, Goodman said that the Friends of Hagerman will be dealing with lasting effects of the shutdown for months.
“We will be behind in our planning for this calendar year,” she said. “Our revenue from the Nature Nook will not be what we expected for this year, either. This will definitely impact how many programs we can put on for area adults and children. Hagerman NWR is a destination for many school field trips, and if the shutdown doesn’t end soon, the schools will have to find other places to go.”
One of the biggest concerns for Goodman though is knowing the the refuge staff is not currently being paid.
“We love working with the Refuge staff, and we really hate to see them struggle financially,” she said. “They work tirelessly to keep Hagerman in good shape, and also support as well as encourage the Friends group in providing quality educational programs about nature. We certainly hope the shut down ends soon.”