10 JAN 2019: While hundreds of thousands of government employees, including ironically those of Transportation Security Administration workers - who provide security at airports - are going without pay, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is directing dozens of wildlife refuges to return staffers to work to make sure hunters and others are not denied their bloody fun despite the government shutdown.

In an email sent Tuesday afternoon, Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, cites “opportunities, including hunting” that are being lost in the shutdown. So, yes this is absolutely true, she advises in the email that 38 wildlife refuges around the country will bring back some furloughed staff using carryover funds.

“While many of our refuges have remained accessible, but not staffed, the extended lapse in federal appropriations is impacting both our ability to serve the public and to protect natural resources under our care in some places,” Everson wrote.

Meanwhile at airport security

Despite warnings by labor groups representing airport screeners, the Trump administration said on Wednesday that staffing is adequate and travellers have not faced unusual delays.

But union officials said some TSA officers have already quit because of the shutdown and many are considering quitting.

“The loss of (TSA) officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires,” said American Federation of Government Employees TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas.

“If this keeps up there are problems that will arise – least of which would be increased wait times for travellers.”

US Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, asked the Trump administration how it is ensuring adequate staffing at airports.

“TSA officers are among the lowest paid federal employees, with many living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Thompson wrote.

“It is only reasonable to expect officer call outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts, since no employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay.”

TSA said that on Tuesday it screened 1.73 million passengers and 99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes.

TSA says it is still hiring officers and working on contingency plans in case the shutdown lasts beyond Friday, when officers would miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

TSA has brought on about 500 new officers since the shutdown with 300 more expected to start later this month.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association noted that the number controllers is now at a 30-year low, with 18 percent of controllers eligible to retire.

Back at Fish and Wildlife

Everson did not immediately respond to an email from the AP seeking comment. An email sent to a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman seeking comment elicited an automatic email saying she would respond to requests after the shutdown ends.

“For the next 30 days, using previously appropriated funds, we will bring back a limited number of employees to resume work on high priority projects and activities that support the Service's mission and meet the public's desire for access to Refuge lands,” Everson said in the email.

The partial restaffing of 38 wildlife refuges is angering wildlife groups, who accuse the Trump administration of trying to minimize the public impact of the more than two-week-old shutdown to limit the political blowback for Donald Trump. Trump and Democrats in Congress are locked in a dispute over Trump's demand for billions of dollars for a wall on the southern US border.

Unlike as in some past shutdowns, the Interior Department - which oversees both wildlife refuges and national parks - initially had directed national parks to stay open but with little staffing, leading to pile-ups of uncollected garbage and human waste in parks. The National Park Service over the weekend said some parks could start using visitor fees to staff during the shutdown.

And let’s not inconvenience the developers

The Interior Department's shutdown plan also says a small majority of agency staffers in charge of permitting and overseeing oil and gas development in federal waters will be kept at work no matter how long the shutdown lasts, “as they are essential for life and safety.”

The Trump administration has emphasized public use on public lands in general, especially by hunters and oil and gas developers. This has angered environmental groups, which say the government is putting wildlife and habitat at risk.

On Wednesday, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Retirees Association urged the Trump administration to keep national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands closed to the public during the shutdown.

“It is simply impossible to steward these shared American treasures properly, leaving thousands of lands and waters accessible to the public with no staff on site, even for an emergency,” the groups wrote in a letter.

How is this essential?

Desiree Sorenson-Groves of the National Wildlife Refuge Association criticized the partial restaffing of some wildlife refuges.

“If it wasn't essential to have these refuges open for the past three weeks, how is it essential now?” she asked. The bottom line was the Trump administration was trying to “make this less painful to the American public,” she said.

According to the email, the wildlife refuges being restaffed include Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains, scene of an annual winter elk hunt.

Rod Smith, a biologist with Oklahoma's Department of Wildlife Conservation, works with the federal government to co-ordinate the annual elk hunts in the Wichita refuge, 59,000 acres of craggy mountains jutting from the surrounding prairie.

Smith said Wednesday that he and others are awaiting word on whether the US Fish and Wildlife's directive on carryover money means a hunt can happen next week. If applicants who won the roughly 300 permits granted this year don't get to hunt by the end of January, they may have to wait until next winter.

“We've had to have patience. Wait and see is always hard,” Smith said. “Then, just logistically it makes it difficult. And it will make it more difficult next year when we're carrying people over.”

Poor hunters. Such a shame.

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