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Shutdown enters Day 5

October 4, 2013

The Big Stump entrance to Sequoia Kings National Park (above) is closed due to the government shutdown. Highways traveling through national parks remain open, but travelers are being told not to stop within the park boundaries while the government is shut down. Photo courtesy Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

With more than 800,000 federal employees out of work and national parks closed due to the government shutdown, impacts are being felt locally even as some federal services are being maintained.
As the nation heads into its fifth day of the government shutdown meanwhile, officials in Washington are beginning to voice concerns that the country could reach its debt ceiling – legislative restriction on the amount of national debt that can be issued by the Treasury – by Oct. 17.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that he would not let the government default. According to the Washington Post, Boehner said he could rely on House Democrats to help pass a debt-ceiling increase.
According to Deutsche Bank, if the country defaults on its debt, the stockmarket could fall 27 percent and the U.S. gross domestic product would contract by 5.5 percent due to higher government bond yields.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the debt limit and shutdown should be addressed together. “We’ll talk about anything,” Reid said in a press conference this week. “But open the government, get the debt ceiling out of here.”
As elected leaders work to resolve or pretend to work to resolve the shutdown and debt issue, question marks about how the shutdown will impact residents remain.
The U.S. Forest Services has closed all federally-managed and concessionaire-contracted campsites on National Forest land in Inyo County. But the closure, which is scheduled to go into full effect today, has not stopped visitors from coming to the Eastern Sierra.
According to Rick Apted at the Lake Sabrina Boat Landing, “there are a few people around. I have five vehicles in the parking lot now, so there are people up fishing.”
Apted said that, despite the campground closure and the government shutdown, the Bishop Creek Drainage and other front-county recreation areas accessed by Inyo’s communities will remain open. “There’s still going to be fishing and everything,” he said.
According to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Erin O’Connor, the Forest Service is operating with minimal staff, but will continue to offer what services it can while the shutdown is in effect. “All facilities, including Forest Service offices and developed recreational areas such as campgrounds and picnic areas are closed,” O’Connor said in an email Tuesday. “General areas of the National Forest where you may drive, hike, hunt and fish remain accessible.”
A phone number O’Connor provided for more information leads only to a voicemail informing the caller of staff’s unavailability due to the shutdown.
All Forest Service and National Park webpages – and even NASA’s website – are offline.
A shutdown notification on the U.S. Forest Service Website states that the sale of all types of permits, including recreation, firewood, forest products and mineral materials, are suspended and all recreation.gov reservations are suspended.
According to a Contingency Plan for Agency Close Down Procedures drafted by the Forest Service on Sept. 20, fire suppression, including fire fighters and all necessary equipment, will remain operational throughout the shutdown along with law enforcement personnel and emergency and natural disasters response personnel.
The plan states that all funding for continuing operations during the shutdown, beginning on the first day of the appropriations hiatus, would come from discretionary, prior-year unobligated fund balances.
The plan also states that Job Corps operations will continue, “unless directed otherwise by Department of Labor.” The plan also mandates that collection and payment activities for previous legal obligations continue.
As of Friday, the Forest Service was maintaining its fuel-wood collection hotline, (760) 873-2555, which notifies permit-holding residents, via a pre-recorded message, about applicable collection days and chainsaw restrictions.
One area that is unaffected is mail delivery. Throughout the shutdown, mail deliveries are expected to continue, as the U.S. Postal Service receives no tax dollars for day-to-day operations. The Postal Service relies on income from stamps and other postal fees to keep running.
Federal court officials said that federal courts will continue operating normally until about Oct. 18 (10 days after the shutdown went into effect.) According to a statement from the courts, “If the shutdown continues, the judiciary would have to begin furloughs of employees whose work is not considered essential, but cases would continue to be heard.”
The government shutdown is having far-reaching consequences for some, such as campers; tourists who made vacation plans to the Eastern Sierra with visits to nearby national parks in mind; employees of the parks; and businesses who rely on tourist visits to national parks and campgrounds. Elsewhere, the impacts have been minimal.
While all national parks are currently closed, the highways through the parks are open. For more information on the shutdown’s impact on National Parks, see the Thursday, Oct. 3 edition of The Inyo Register.
According to NBC News, Social Security and Medicare benefits will keep coming, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications. Unemployment benefits will still go out.
As of press time Friday, no resolution between House Republicans and Senate Democrats was expected.

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