Summit County’s furloughed White River National Forest employees return to work |

Summit County’s furloughed White River National Forest employees return to work

Breeana Laughlin
Heather Provencio, the deputy forest supervisor, returned to work along with about 150 other employees at the White River National Forest on Thursday.
Summit Daily file photo |

The doors of the Dillon Ranger District reopened on Thursday after being locked for more than two weeks.

Inside, employees turned on their computers, listened to phone messages and began the arduous task of catching up on 16 days of missed work resulting from the government shutdown.

The 26 Dillon Ranger District employees are only a portion of the about 150 U.S. Forest Service employees returning to work for the White River National Forest.

Heather Provencio, White River National Forest’s deputy forest supervisor, said despite the heavy workload, the atmosphere at the forest headquarters in Glenwood Springs was a positive one.

“People were anxious to get back to work,” Provencio said. “It didn’t feel quite right to be home. We knew we had a job to do so it’s nice to be back.”

Only a handful of White River National Forest employees worked during the furlough. They were the ones who focus on emergencies and other issues involving life and safety, Provencio said.

The vast majority of employees, including recreation staff, front desk and admin workers, timber contract staff, and specialized forest service positions, such as wildlife biologists and hydrologists, engineers and archaeologists, were out of work — along with hundreds of thousands of other federal employees throughout the country.

The local forest service employees who returned to their offices on Friday spent most of the day reviewing their workload and getting things back on track.

“Everything has been put on hold for almost three weeks and we are still trying to sort through and prioritize the work,” Provencio said.

Because White River National Forest attracts so many visitors, many forest service employees concentrated on re-establishing recreation-related resources, she said. “We have the highest recreational visitation of any forest in the nation, so we have a lot of folks focusing on getting those activities back on track.”

Other priorities of top concern included making sure ski areas had everything needed from the Forest Service related to their operational plans, and re-establishing timber and stewardship contracts, said Bill Kight, public affairs officer with the White River National Forest.

White River National Forest has a longterm stewardship contract with a forest management company, West Range Reclamation — based in Hotchkiss — which was put on hold during the furlough. Forest Service employees are eager to get back on track, Kight said.

Colorado Senator Mark Udall emphasized the urgency for national forests to restart their stewardship contracts and timber sales.

“Stewardship contracts and timber sales forge critical partnerships between the U.S. Forest Service and private industry. These efforts, which are used to produce timber products and biomass energy, are essential to forest management and to reduce wildfire risks throughout Colorado,” Udall said in a press release. “Although I appreciate the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts to ease the effects of the unfortunate government shutdown on timber operations, it must quickly resume its administration of these contracts today. Jobs are at stake.”

Kight said employees with the White River National Forest were eager to resume their duties and get back to business as usual.

“People who work for the forest service are public servants,” he said. “We like to serve the public and that’s our job.”

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