Government shutdown shutters 270-acre wildlife refuge, leave Dungeness Spit an 'island'
Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
Federal wildlife officer Dave Falzetti sets out a barricade at the entrance to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge after it was closed Tuesday.
By Jeremy Schwartz and Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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The Dungeness Spit is closed to the public, but the New Dungeness Lighthouse at the tip of the Spit will remain open. It is owned by the Coast Guard and managed by the nonprofit New Dungeness Light Station Association.
“We basically become an island in the middle of a closed federal refuge,” said Chad Kaiser, general manager of the association.
“The Spit is closed to the general public.”
With Dungeness Spit closed to visitors because it is within the wildlife refuge, the only way to reach the lighthouse would be by boat, said Jennifer Brown-Scott, manager of the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Dungeness refuge and Matia and Turn islands in the San Juans.
“Technically, you can land a boat out there and take tours just like you would normally,” Kaiser said, adding that the boat dock is also Coast Guard property.
The refuge complex normally gets about $616,000 from the federal government each year, Brown-Scott said Tuesday. That money was not renewed after last fiscal year's funding expired Monday.
Brown-Scott said she and federal wildlife officer David Falzetti will be the only two of six Dungeness refuge staff who will continue to work through the government shutdown, working without pay to tell visitors the area is closed and ensure the safety of the land and property within the refuge.
“That's all we're here for: just for the essential duties,” Brown-Scott said.
The refuge's visitor center and headquarters off Holgerson Road also are closed, Brown-Scott added.
The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge has on average about 100,000 visitors per year, she said.
Falzetti said the only other time the refuge had been closed in his seven years as a wildlife officer there was for a tsunami warning.
“It breaks my heart to close this,” Falzetti said Tuesday while he set up closure signs along the road into the refuge, “because I love sharing and making sure these beautiful lands are here for the American people that love them.”
Refuge staff started getting guidance on how to prepare for a possible government shutdown last week, Brown-Scott said.
On Tuesday, Brown-Scott said the four other refuge staff members were given no more than four hours to “close things down and get everything locked up for the furlough.”
This work included resetting voice mail messages to explain the absence of staff, sending last-minute emails and rescheduling meetings, she said.
Nine people are now staying at the lighthouse as keepers, Kaiser said. They are scheduled to end their weeklong stay Friday, with another group slated to take their place.
“The transition will go on as scheduled,” Kaiser said.
Members of the New Dungeness Light Station Association volunteer at their own expense to serve as lighthouse keepers for one-week stints, according to the association's website.
The government shutdown is not expected to affect the keepers much, Kaiser said. They still will be responsible for maintaining the lighthouse grounds while staying there.
The wildlife refuge, however, is closed to them, Kaiser added.
“Our keepers cannot go into the wildlife refuge. They're only allowed to stay on our property,” Kaiser said.
“In speaking with the keepers, they don't find it terribly restrictive.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 01. 2013 6:53PM