USFWS Workers Return To Office After Nation's Longest Federal Government Shutdown

Jan 29, 2019

All 19 USFWS Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge employees returned to the office on January 28, 2019 after Congress passed a bill to fund the government for three weeks following the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.
Credit Anna Rose MacArthur / KYUK

Federal employees returned to work on Monday, following Congress’ decision to fund the government for the next three weeks. The longest federal government shutdown in our nation’s history ended on Friday after stretching 35 days and causing federal workers to miss two paychecks. KYUK checked in on how the shutdown impacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workers in Bethel at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

Christina Tulik is relieved to return to her full-time job, but the shutdown has made her question her future as a federal employee.

“I was thinking about actually quitting and applying for another job," Tulik said, "because I did not like how I was affected by the government shutdown.”

Tulik works as a clerk at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Before Christmas, Tulik had traveled to Michigan to visit her boyfriend’s family for the holidays. While she was away, the government shut down.

“And then I came back with no job,” Tulik said.

At least no paying job. Thankfully, WA! on Ptarmigan Street in Bethel reopened as a Vietnamese pho restaurant at the same time. Tulik picked up part-time work as a waitress. Knowing that the government is funded for only three more weeks, she’s keeping the gig.

“Just to keep money set aside for another government shutdown,” Tulik explained.

Tulik is 24 years old. She has student loans and credit card bills, and during the shutdown she says that she spent whole days on the phone working to get the payments deferred.

According to Tulik, one thing she did not do was file for unemployment to avoid having her taxes impacted down the road. However, many other refuge workers did file. Acting Refuge Manager Ray Born encouraged his employees to apply for these benefits when the shutdown entered its second week.

“I’ve been a federal employee for more than 35 years, so I’ve seen most of them,” Born said.

But the length of the nation’s longest-running shutdown put Born in unseen territory.

“Yeah, that was a new experience for me," Born said. "And then trying extrapolate the best way how to take care of everybody.”

As the Acting Refuge Manager, Born was in the office every day of the shutdown. He was checking on the facility, and also contacting the regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director. He would get updates on what was happening in D.C., and then pass that information on to refuge workers through their personal emails. Younger employees with fewer financial resources and less experience with government shutdowns needed extra help.

Born says that the shutdown has delayed planning for summer projects, but should not impact summer fishing management. A planned ptarmigan migration study has been postponed until next year. If the government shuts down again, the refuge will still allow its pilot and aircraft to fly with Bethel Search and Rescue to check on river conditions.