Yosemite National Park turned 123 years old today. But there was no celebration because it, along with many other public lands, closed as a result of the government representatives’ inability to agree on a budget. So for now, Yosemite Falls has been turned off and El Capitan has a big sheet over it. Uncle Sam couldn’t afford a birthday cake for you this year, Yosemite.
All media outlets over the past week have been bombarded with news of how the House and Senate cannot agree on the fiscal budget. Whether you agree with one side or the other, there are real concerns over how the shutdown of our government will impact us as hunters.
1. Public land use
Over the past week both the BLM and Forest Service published contingency plans for the potential shutdown. Basically and governmental service that is not “essential to running the government” is going to grind to a halt. That includes many public land areas.
Both the BLM and Forest Service will leave emergency services and law enforcement personnel in place. But the BLM plan calls for a furlough (leave without pay) of all non-essential employees. BLM currently has 10,800 employees and the plan is to furlough 10,200 of them. That means only 5.5% of BLM employees will remain on-the-job.
Campgrounds, boat ramps, and other recreation sites will be closed or posted as closed in areas where public access cannot practically be restricted. All facilities will be operationally shut down and posted accordingly, with gates locked, restrooms locked, and water systems shut down. Consistent with other Federal recreation providers, occupied sites would be given 48 hours to vacate, with the area shut down as the last visitor leaves. Shutdown activities for the sites would be completed within the 48 hour period. Campground hosts and other volunteers would be given the same 48 hour period to vacate, and should not expect to receive any reimbursement for this period.
Hunting access is impacted where the public land is administered by the US Government. So if your hunting area is somehow managed under Federal funding, you can expect to be locked out. That generally includes National Parks, but can also include any waterfowl hunting areas that are operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. All 561 National Wildlife Refuges will be closed to access and use, including hunting.
2. Gun sales
While it is not clear what actual impact the government shutdown will have on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), there are no plans to completely shut it down. Based upon past instances, there was really no hiccup in the NICS step of a gun purchase. Hopefully that remains the case this time. So while the NICS may not be so “instant”, there are no plans to completely shut it down and that means gun purchases should generally be unaffected.
The bad news is that some areas will be closed to access. With many waterfowl seasons open or already opening in the next few weeks, that means some hunters will have to make a Plan B.
My recommendation is that you try and determine whether your hunting area will be open by calling. The problem is that many of the folks that normally answer the phones may not be around. Your best bet would be to contact law enforcement for the area to determine how best to proceed.
The good news is that if you are trying to buy that new rifle or shotgun for the season, you probably won’t be slowed too much. There may be a few staffing issues here and there, but based upon prior shutdowns hunters probably won’t feel the government’s inefficiency too much when buying a firearm.