Utah researchers stymied as parks, refuges remain closed
Timing is everything and the arrival of the federal government shutdown could not have come at a worse time for some Utah researchers and biologists.
Season-specific events are happening right now in closed research facilities and behind locked gates at reservoirs and refuges across Utah and even in other locations across the nation.
The shutdown is not only impacting current projects, but also threatens future research.
"Right now is the time the federal funding agencies would normally be accepting and evaluating research to be done next year," said Chris Luecke, dean of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.
"Our College of Natural Resources received $7 million in federal financing last year. That is about half our total budget and that is only our college. We have seven colleges and about four of them are science-based. [Natural Resources gets] about $3 million from the state so it's a big chunk."
Research currently being impacted at Utah State University ranges from a massive study on invasive phragmites plants along the Great Salt Lake with a connection to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to a visitor use impact study at Grand Teton National Park to coyote behavior research at the Predator Ecology Center aimed at limiting attacks on wildlife and livestock.
A Utah State University student in his third year of a four-year study on efforts to control phragmites on the Chesapeake Bay is unable to complete annual fall field work.
Access to vehicles, boats and the wetlands has been cut off at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
"He flies out multiple times a year to research and had just flown out the Saturday before the shutdown," said Karin M. Kettenring, assistant professor at the Wetland Ecology Center and Department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University. "We are doing the research in different places to help us understand how phragmites survives and how wetlands are impacted. What we learn there helps us here and vice versa."
Closer to Utah State University, other research students had to scramble to complete some work at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near Brigham City before it closed, but other important studies require ongoing trips into the refuge.
"Much of our field work is very time sensitive, so as you can imagine, this is more than just inconvenient. And, of course, it also means wasted time in terms of all the planning that went into these studies."
Luecke said 10 of 13 staffers at the Predator Ecology Center, a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility that USU works closely with, had been furloughed.
"They are trying to figure out ways to minimize the impact coyotes have on agricultural production," he said. "This involves sterilization at a certain time of the year and that time is right now."
Other impacts at Utah State University include finding substitutes for federal employees who have been teaching classes and scrambling to replace federal speakers at the "Restoring the West Conference" being held in Logan Oct. 16-17.
"The shutdown is trickling down in weird ways," Luecke said. "I think a lot of people were assuming it would last a week and felt the damages would be minimal. Now we are in the second week and all of the sudden research programs are just folding."