If Congress fails to end a federal budget stalemate by Friday, most of the 600 employees of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service likely would be furloughed.
But that doesn't mean local federal forestlands will become fair game for scofflaws. Both agencies plan to keep skeletal crews in place to maintain basic functions, including law enforcement officers.
"We have been tasked by the state office to come up with essential services and that would primarily be law enforcement," said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the BLM's Medford District.
"We want to make it clear that law enforcement would be out there patrolling. Our essential functions would still be in place — basically law enforcement — but we would also have people to protect our infrastructure investment."
Ditto for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, said forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons. "We would cover the essentials, including providing law enforcement to ensure public safety," she said. "If there is a shutdown, we would continue to fill about 10 positions."
The House is set to vote today on the newest stopgap proposal, which would fund the government for three more weeks while cutting another $6 billion in spending. But members of both parties are balking at the proposal, with conservative Republicans calling for bigger cuts and Democrats unhappy that most cuts are focused on domestic programs that make up only 15 percent of the federal budget.
BLM's Medford District employs about 300 people while 301 people work for the Forest Service locally, including both permanent and seasonal employees. The headquarters for both agencies is located at the federal interagency office building at 3040 Biddle Road, Medford, and the two agencies share a smaller building in Grants Pass. The Forest Service also has a half-dozen district ranger offices.
The joint federal headquarters was occupied solely by the BLM before Forest Service staff relocated there a few years ago. Should a shutdown occur, a skeletal BLM crew would be on hand to keep an eye on the structure, Whittington said.
"There are some basic kinds of things in the infrastructure you have to continue to maintain," he said, referring to everything from electrical to plumbing. "For instance, our IT infrastructure would be crucial. We would have someone monitor the computers. We may not have someone sitting in a room but would probably be on call when needed. Our building managers would probably stay on."
Sensitive items such as nursery stock would also have to be monitored to avoid losing valuable investments, he said.
All told, he estimated, fewer than two dozen BLM Medford District employees would continue working in the event of a federal shutdown.
"But they have until that Sunday night to approve a continuing resolution," he said, noting Congress may work into the weekend to break the logjam. "The worse thing for us would be to go home on Friday, and on Monday find out there isn't a continuing resolution or budget."