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Federal Scientists Prep For Spring Research, Amid Uncertainty Over Government Shutdown

There's still some uncertainty in Washington over a proposed funding agreement. Federal scientists in Massachusetts, whose work came to a halt in the last government shutdown, say they're getting ready in case lawmakers fail to reach a deal to keep the government open by Friday.

Wildlife biologist Stephen DeStefano studies large mammals like moose and black bears for the U.S. Geological Survey. He said at least one colleague is trying to get a federal grant application done ahead of time.

“Even though the deadline is beyond the potential shut down date, she's dropping other things to make sure she can get that research proposal done and submitted.” DeStefano said, “We are working on a couple of research papers. We are trying to hustle and get all that done.”

But DeStefano said his bigger concern is his grad students.

“I want them to feel like we're doing everything we can for them to help them advance in their program. So it's basically having conversations you know, 'how can we prepare for this where I am less than 100 percent involved?”

DeStefano added, another potential impact is that his team won't have access to federal vehicles to get to field research sites.

Researchers with the Forest Service are also worried about how another partial government shutdown could throw a wrench in their spring field studies. Fisheries biologist Keith Nislow leads a team of scientists who study the impact of dams on migrating fish, species whose peak activity is compressed into three spring months.

If scientists aren’t ready for spring field season, they’ll miss a whole year of research, Nislow explained.

Nislow said part of getting ready is finalizing agreements with government agencies and university researchers, hiring students, and ordering field equipment. But uncertainty over whether lawmakers can reach a spending agreement is forcing Nislow’s team to make tough decisions.

“One of the discussions we've had is OK, at what point do we give up on things do we say that this is not going to happen this year,” Nislow said.

Nislow said his team is scrambling to get logistics planned while they're certain that they can come to work. 

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: Eight public media companies, including The Public's Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

The dam and fish ladder on the Indian Head River, on the border of Pembroke and Hanson in Massachusetts.
The dam and fish ladder on the Indian Head River, on the border of Pembroke and Hanson in Massachusetts.