February 2, 2019 – For 35 days, more than 35,000 USDA Forest Service employees throughout the country were furloughed from their jobs, told not to return to work and would not get paid until the government shutdown ended. Included in this shutdown were more than 300 federal employees from the Tahoe National Forest.
After the longest-ever government shutdown in U.S. history, many shared experiences of how employees spent their time away from work dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing when they would receive another paycheck or return to work. Many spent their time catching up on household chores, bonding with family, exploring new hobbies or volunteering within the community to distract themselves from the frustration of a shutdown with no end in sight. Some stayed busy making a difference in the lives of others, helping in a big way. Essential employees in departments covering the safety of human life and/or protection of property stayed on the job.
Tahoe National Forest Hydrologist, Luke Rutten and Biologist, Dan Teater helped folks in Paradise, California who were victims of the Camp Fire. They volunteered by hauling donated items and delivering them to a distribution center located at the Oroville Fire Department building at the Mooretown Rancheria, Native American. “Volunteers of this distribution center were very organized,” explains Dan Teater. “Inside the fire building were tidy rows of appliances, furniture, clothes, baby food, diapers and other personal items. Locations where we could acquire these donated items were identified by the organizers,” explains Luke, “then, we’d pick up the items and deliver them to the distribution center.” They used Luke’s personal van and trailer and picked up the items from both commercial and private locations. “This was a good way to stay busy and keep our minds off the inactivity of a government shutdown,” says Luke.
Laurie Blakemore, Executive Assistant at the Supervisor’s Office of the Tahoe National Forest, volunteered at Scotten Elementary School in Grass Valley, as a teacher’s aide for Mrs. Netherwood’s second grade class. Laurie says, “I had loads of fun seeing what the children accomplish every day at school. One day, we rode the school bus to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival where we watched children’s nature documentaries at the Del Oro Theater in Grass Valley. The children attending learned about the importance of the conservation of wildlife and leaving no trace on the land, to preserve these things for future generations.”
Shelly Allen is known as an essential employee and works in fire. The federal government retains all essential employees like Shelly, during a government shutdown. Shelly works in a department encompassing the safety of human life and the protection of property and is a point of contact for hiring fire fighters. “This time of year, the USDA Forest Service prepares for fire season by hiring temporary fire personnel for the summer season,” explains Shelly.
When Shelly is not working, she prepares for the Hot-Shot Half Marathon, a 14.1 mile endurance race. A normal marathon is 13.1 miles but Hot-Shots always go the “extra-mile” so the Hot-Shot half-marathon is one mile farther than a traditional marathon. This year’s Hotshot Half Marathon is being held April 27, 2019 along the scenic Bullard’s Bar Reservoir trail.
Another essential employee who works in fire is Tina Kennedy. Tina worked during the furlough processing paperwork for approximately 50 wildland firefighter candidates for the 2019 summer fire season. Tina manages the wildland firefighter apprenticeship program and assisted firefighters at the McClellan Academy. The academy requires that all new firefighters attend training. Tina said, “I was glad to be able to help during the furlough because I understand the importance of training firefighters.”
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Resource Technician, Jennifer Callahan at the Truckee Ranger District got a job as a Snow Cat ski guide and worked at a local ski resort. She also spent some time with family doing many chores. Jennifer also volunteered for search and rescue training and was a first responder for a few searches.
District Culturist, Kelly Bowdoin at the American River Ranger District said, “I was not in a hardship monetarily speaking, but, I did learn how to knit on a loom and completed a number of small projects around the house.”
Fire Prevention Officer Gary Wright, a well-known social extrovert, was on call during the government shutdown. He took on an extra job as a bartender for the Pour House Tavern in downtown Grass Valley. Gary’s wife Monique, who is also a Forest Service employee, stayed busy working part-time dog sitting, house-sitting and catching up on her reading. Rather than worrying or stressing about things they had no control over, they both decided to stay busy by taking on part-time jobs.
During the shutdown, Information Assistant, Izaya Lewis at the Yuba River Ranger District drove for Lyft, an alternative transportation company which provides ride services, to pay her bills. “It was interesting and fun. I met many people and learned about their lives.” Says Izaya. “My favorite person was a woman I picked up from her doctor’s appointment who was nine months pregnant, and a whole week past her due date!” Izaya says she met a variety of different personalities while driving and said, “I’m glad I did this because it helped me to pay my bills and also helped me stress a little less. But man, I’m glad to be back at work!”
Story by George Garnett, USFS