Government shutdown has about 200 Utah forest service employees out of work

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Utah County’s canyons and forests are among the areas affected by the weeks-long partial federal government shutdown.

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest’s 2.1 million acres is normally staffed by approximately 200 people, according to Dave Whittekiend, forest supervisor.

Most of those people have now been on furlough since Dec. 22, when the government shut down after Congress and the White House could not reach a spending deal the day before.

The exceptions to that are those at the Utah Avalanche Center, law enforcement officers and avalanche control in the Cottonwood Canyons, Whittekiend said.

That means the forests don’t have personnel at toll booths or people staffing the local offices in Pleasant Grove and Spanish Fork.

“Right now, we pretty much don’t have anybody out there,” Whittekiend said. “We’re not processing actions, we’re not overseeing a whole lot of stuff.”

Whittekiend said Salt Lake Utilities will be taking care of shoveling paths and cleaning toilets in the Cottonwood canyons, but elsewhere, things will pretty much be let as is.

“If (bathrooms) were open at the time of the shutdown, we didn’t close them,” Whittekiend said. “In the past, they tend to get vandalized if we close them. If they were previously closed, they’ll just remain that way.”

Whittekiend said for now, no issues with trash in the forests or issues with bathrooms have been reported to him, and he asks that people who still choose to recreate in the forests be safe and prepared.

“We have a lot of fatalities in the forest even when it’s properly staffed,” Whittekiend said. “We advise people to be mindful that they may not have all the services. There’s nothing we can do about that.”

Two of Utah’s five national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, are closed. Zion, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon are all open, though they have limited services.

Restrooms, trash collection and services like campground reservations or other permits are suspended, according to

Zion and Bryce Canyon are the only two national parks whose visitor centers are still open.

According to the Associated Press, President Donald Trump said Friday he could keep parts of the government shut down for “months or even years” as he continues to fight with Democrats over the terms of reaching a funding agreement. Trump is demanding billions of dollars for a border wall on the southern border with Mexico, with Democrats resisting.

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