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MailTribune.com
  • Cattle spurn shutdown, graze anyway

    Forest agencies face short staffs from furloughs
  • Twenty-eight cows that moseyed onto the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument last week obviously didn't know about the partial federal government shutdown.
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  • Twenty-eight cows that moseyed onto the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument last week obviously didn't know about the partial federal government shutdown.
    But the bovine intrusion into an area closed to cattle grazing reflects the challenges facing the skeleton crews that are now staffing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, where the monument is situated, as well as the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
    "For us to respond is a little bit of a challenge, but I've notified our law enforcement," said John Gerritsma, BLM's Ashland Resource Area field manager.
    "We don't have our full resources to deal with this thing," he added, noting that cows trespassing into the monument was a periodic problem before the shutdown. Both the BLM and the Mail Tribune received calls reporting the latest cattle problem, which is in the Jenny Creek drainage, in the mountains just east of Ashland.
    The shutdown has furloughed all but a few employees on the BLM district and the national forest. Before the shutdown, there were roughly 400 permanent employees and 170 seasonal employees in the district and national forest.
    But only those whose jobs were deemed to be essential, including law enforcement personnel, are permitted to work during the shutdown, officials said.
    "We've had cows trespassing all summer long. We've been out there a number of times because of this issue," Gerritsma said.
    The incident reflects the issues facing the dramatically reduced staff, he added.
    "It's too bad," he said of the shutdown. "With this beautiful fall weather, we could have been doing a lot of things out in the woods."
    Over in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, forest supervisor Rob MacWhorter said his short staff is doing what it is permitted to do during the shutdown.
    "An orderly shutdown and protecting life and property — that's what we have the authority to do," he said Tuesday. "Anything beyond that we're not authorized to do."
    He said only a "handful" of forest employees were still working during the shutdown.
    "They are in the office or out in the field," he said. "If anything is causing issues around protecting life and property, we will deal with it."
    Some activities in the woods, such as permitted livestock grazing or timber harvesting, cannot be shut down overnight, he said.
    "We are working with livestock permittees to shut that down," he said. "We've also been working with timber purchasers to shut that down. We're working with them so they can do things to prevent erosion or remove trees already felled. We're buttoning up the timber sales."
    Several timber firms are currently hauling logs, all cut before the shutdown, out of the woods, he said, noting that hunters and others venturing into the forest need to drive cautiously because of the logging trucks that are operating.
    "Because of the early onset of all the fall rains, they are hauling them out now" before more rain arrives, he said.
    Although local federal lands are open to visitors, campgrounds have been closed, he said.
    If the shutdown were to continue until the snow flies, the agency might have to expand its closures, he said, in particular citing the Mount Ashland ski area.
    "We've given (the ski area operators) the heads up that if this continues, there may be impacts," he said. "But I don't know what that will look like yet."
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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