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Staff at Tamarac, DL Wetlands District glad to be back at work

This bald eagle keeps a watchful eye on the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. File photo1 / 2
Winter beauty at the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. File photo.2 / 2

After the record 35-day partial federal government shutdown, staff at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District were glad to return to work on Monday.

"We're glad to be here, fully staffed," said Kelly Blackledge, who handles visitor services and education programs at Tamarac. The 10 full-time staff members at Tamarac "definitely have a lot of catching up to do," she said. "A lot of projects have sat idle for over a month now. We're trying to get them up and running."

Tamarac staff had started the complex process of developing a new Hunt Plan for the refuge, and are still tied to the original deadlines for environmental assessment and public comment, in spite of losing 35 days.

"We've just had to prioritize work projects that are seasonally sensitive," she said. "Right now we're trying to catch up on all the winter environmental education programs that are happening in February," when area schools will bus students out to Tamarac for winter environmental activities.

"It's a little bit of feeling like we have to scramble to to get things up and running again," Blackledge said.

Although a skeleton crew has remained on the job to protect and maintain the Tamarac visitor's center and other infrastructure, most furloughed workers went over a month without pay.

Some of the payroll work is done locally, and it's "certainly a priority to process pay, so back pay could be realized," she said.

President Trump engineered the government shutdown in an attempt force Congress to fund a security wall on the southern border. He ended the shutdown for a three week period and said he will shut the government down again Feb. 15 if Congress doesn't come to terms with him on a border security barrier.

"We're certainly looking at Feb. 15 and hoping we won't be in this position again," Blackledge said.

"We're putting ourselves in a position to be successful no matter what happens," said Ryan Frohling, project leader at the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District. "We'll make plans like we normally do, maybe with contingencies. We can't control that (a resumption of the shutdown). We'll just move forward and see what happens Feb. 15."

The district usually spreads native plant seeds on nice days in February before the snow melts. "We use tracked vehicles and spread them on top of the snow," he said. "The sun warms up the dark seeds and they embed in the snow. We actually have really, really good luck doing it that way."

Depending on the weather, the seeding process often starts in mid-February and other tasks, such as controlled burning, are done in mid-March and early April, he said.

At this point, federal workers are just doing what they can.

"We hope to catch up this week and hit the ground running next week," Frohling said.