Update: A bill funding the federal government through February 8 was passed by Congress and signed by the president on January 22, ending the government shutdown.
Congress was unable to pass either a short-term or long-term spending bill on Friday to avoid a lapse in government funding. Unfortunately, this lapse in funding results in a “government shutdown” until Congress can pass a spending bill that the president will sign. This has serious ramifications for many federal agencies, offices, and employees, as well as for the millions of people served by various federal programs. So what exactly does it mean for the Forest Service, the Los Padres National Forest, and other public lands in our region? Based on this past experience and new information we have collected, below are some of the things to expect for our national forest during this government shutdown.
What to Expect in the Los Padres
The Forest Service has a contingency plan for an agency closure that was updated in July of 2017. This plan details which services and activities will remain active during the shutdown. Activities are split into three categories:
- Category I – Law Enforcement and Health and Safety
- Category II – Activities not included in Category I and III; financed from available funds, where applicable.
- Category III – Protect Life and Property
Categories I and III are considered “excepted” and will continue through the government shutdown. Some of the activities in these categories include law enforcement, fire suppression, emergency response and preparedness, and protection of vital research studies. In other words, the Forest Service’s law enforcement agents will continue their patrols and ongoing investigations, fire personnel will continue post-Thomas Fire cleanup efforts, and other essential personnel will remain on duty. Unfortunately, most recreation-related activities fall under Category II.
We spoke with the Los Padres National Forest officials about how the shutdown will affect recreation sites and forest access. They informed us that the entire national forest will be closed until Congress passes a funding bill. This includes the ranger district offices in Frazier Park, King City, Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria, as well as campgrounds and day use sites throughout the entire forest. According to forest officials, even sites managed by a concessionaire will be closed during the shutdown. Trails that were open before the shutdown will remain open to the public, but vehicular access to trailheads may be impacted.
According to the Forest Service, all forest gates will be closed and locked, effectively closing several forest roads. Some of these roads may lead to recreation sites, but these will still be accessible by foot if they are not part of the Thomas Fire or other closure orders. A list of all road and campground closures can be found at the Forest Service’s website.
It is important to note that Forest Service personnel will be unavailable to provide assistance to those who access the forest during the shutdown. If you have an emergency out on the trail, call 911 for assistance. Personnel will also be unavailable if you have specific questions about the national forest.
Some of these details about closures may change over the next few days. We will continue to update this post, so be sure to check back periodically.
The 2013 Shutdown’s Effects
The last time we experienced a government shutdown was in 2013. That shutdown lasted 16 days and cost the U.S. economy $24 billion. During that time, the Forest Service was forced to furlough thousands of employees and close recreation sites around the country. The Los Padres was no exception, with ranger district offices closed and many employees forced to put their work on hold for more than two weeks. During this time, ForestWatch was not able to coordinate or conduct volunteer projects in the national forest. Trail maintenance groups were not able to get authorization for their work, which requires precise timing before the winter rains. Many projects were set back by two weeks or more, creating significant problems for several organizations.
Fortunately for hikers, equestrians, cyclists, and other recreationists, access to areas in the Los Padres was not severely impacted by the 2013 shutdown. As the second largest national forest in California, restricting access to large swaths of land was not feasible, and most campgrounds in the Los Padres remained opened since they operate without the presence of a Forest Service employee. However, there were some recreation sites that were closed specifically due to the shutdown. These included Rose Valley Campground and Middle Lion Campground (which are now closed due to the Thomas Fire).
The lack of closures during the 2013 shutdown is in contrast with the agency’s planned response to the current government shutdown. We will continue to gather and provide information about specific site and road closures due to the current shutdown.
Other Public Lands
The government shutdown will only impact federal public lands. Places like state, county, and city parks and trails will be unaffected. Other federal land management agencies will be impacted by the shutdown, however. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites such as the Carrizo Plain National Monument will likely face staffing issues, but the monument will remain accessible and free to visit. Law enforcement under the BLM will also continue to work despite the shutdown.
The Department of Interior issued a statement yesterday that national parks will remain open despite the shutdown. During the 2013 shutdown, all national parks were closed to the public — a move that was met with intense backlash. This time, national parks entrance gates will be open and staffed, but most other services in the parks such as gift shops, maintained restrooms, and concessions will likely be closed.