Forest Service regrouping, setting priorities in Aspen area after 35-day layoff | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service regrouping, setting priorities in Aspen area after 35-day layoff

The U.S. Forest Service's facilities in the Roaring Fork Valley were closed during the partial government shutdown. The White River National Forest is back in business.

The White River National Forest is back in business — and part of its business is figuring out how to catch up from an unexpected month off.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams issued a statement this week that said the agency is assessing its priorities for the remainder of the year and "returning to the work of caring for the land and serving people."

"In coming days, we will work to reset our work to continue delivering the benefits and services the American people expect from us," the statement said. "Part of this 'resetting' is looking at our work here locally and prioritizing it in ways that makes sense given the circumstances."

Fitzwilliams declined comment beyond the statement.

At the time of the partial government shutdown, the White River staff was undertaking numerous conservation-related projects proposed internally, as well as routine reviews of ski-industry proposals.

The conservation projects included planning for hazard tree removal on Basalt Mountain as part of the ongoing effort to deal with the aftermath of the Lake Christine Fire. The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District also wanted to get started on fieldwork in the summer needed to implement a fee system on the Four Pass Loop.

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The ski-industry project reviews include the proposed Pandora lift and terrain expansion on Aspen Mountain, as well as expanded snowmaking at the existing Aspen Mountain and Snowmass ski areas.

It was uncertain from the statement if the White River staff will try to streamline review of the ski-industry projects during the window the federal government is assured of being open.

The partial government shutdown took effect Dec. 22 and lasted 35 days until Jan. 25. Many workers returned to their offices Monday. However, Congress and President Donald Trump agreed to only temporary funding through Feb. 15, so another shutdown is possible.

There are 133 full-time workers in the White River National Forest. The 2.3-million-acre forest stretches from Rifle to Summit County and from Aspen to Meeker. Of those workers, 112 were on furlough. Some sought alternative employment during the shutdown.

The Aspen Times was unable to learn Tuesday if the White River National Forest required any furloughed employees to return to work prior to Monday. An inquiry on the topic was referred from the local office to the national office.

The Forest Service statement said the agency is looking forward to getting back to normal operations.

"The USDA Forest Service is focused on getting our employees paid and back on duty, as well as effectively resuming operations," the statement said. "We recognize that the partial government shutdown has impacted the important work our agency does on behalf of the American people."

The White River staff sent out a tweet Monday thanking agency employees, partners and people affected by the shutdown for their patience.

"We would like to thank our employees, partners and local communities for patience and support over the past few weeks," the forest supervisor's tweet said. "All White River National Forest offices are back open for business. We are so glad to be back!"

Fitzwilliams' statement amplified the gratitude. "The outpouring of community support for employees was incredibly heartfelt and we are grateful for that," it said.

Assistance ranged from no-interest loans from Alpine Banks to an ongoing effort to provide City Market gift cards to federal employees who haven't received a paycheck for more than one month (see fact box).

scondon@aspentimes.com

HELPING LOCAL WORKERS

The furlough of federal government employees is over, at least until Feb. 15, but the tough times dealing without a paycheck for 35 days is still a problem.

Aspen resident Mitzi Rapkin wants to help out Roaring Fork Valley workers with the U.S. Forest Service and Transportation Security Administration.

Rapkin started a GoFundMe page to raise money that will be used to buy gift cards to City Market for federal workers needing a hand until paychecks arrive.

“While people might have political views, this is about compassion,” Rapkin said. “I just wanted to do something simple.”

She stressed that she is pursuing the fundraising as an individual, not as an employee of the city of Aspen. Working for a local government motivated her to help other government employees.

She said she spends nearly every day in the national forest and appreciates the job that Forest Service workers do. She also flies out of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and appreciates the workers with TSA. There are roughly 64 Forest Service employees in the Roaring Fork Valley as well as 34 TSA workers.

She conferred with officials with the agencies and determined providing grocery money could be helpful to families and individuals experiencing the toughest financial pinch. The gift cards will be provided to the supervisors for distribution.

The page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/groceries-for-fs-employees-of-rf-valley. There is a link underneath the Donate Now button where Rapkin can be contacted via email. Anyone who wants to donate but doesn’t want to use the GoFundMe page can contact her directly.

“I put a lofty goal in there for $15,000,” she said.

That’s only enough to buy about $150 worth of groceries per worker, though the money will be directed to those most in need. Rapkin noted the need could grow if another partial shutdown strikes in February. Congress and President Donald Trump agreed to temporary funding that expires Feb. 15.

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