Shutdown hits search for missing Boise hiker at Craters

Forest Service campgrounds are closed, and federal courts might have to move cases.

kterhune@idahostatesman.com, The Associated PressOctober 2, 2013 

  • Can you volunteer to search?

    Because of bad weather and treacherous terrain, the family of Jo Elliott-Blakeslee is asking for experienced volunteers who can hike 10 to 12 miles and climb 1,000 feet on rough, rocky slopes.

    People already have volunteered to join the search, said Teresa Hampton, a friend of Elliott-Blakeslee.

    "The government shutdown does put another wrinkle into this situation," she said. "It's another challenge, but it's not one that can't be overcome."

    Hampton praised the Craters officials for keeping them informed.

    Craters spokesman Ted Stout said the shutdown does not mean that the monument staff is giving up hope.

    "We made a huge effort, and we're scaling back that effort, but we will continue to search with whatever staff resources we have available," he said.

    In a statement, the missing woman's family thanked volunteers, park staff and the Butte County Sheriff's Office.

    "We realize the chance of Dr. Jo surviving in temperatures that have dipped below freezing are slim," the statement read. "However, we are not ruling out the outside chance that she has found shelter in a cave or under vegetation. Either way, we are committed to bringing her home and are actively recruiting volunteers with backcountry experience to keep the search going."

    To volunteer: Contact Teresa Hampton at tah@hampton-elliott.com or (208) 859-5816.

The federal government's inaction threw a search for a missing Boise hiker into limbo Tuesday as Craters of the Moon National Monument staff were forced into furloughs. Jo Elliott-Blakeslee's family issued a plea for volunteers to carry on the search.

Sixteen of 19 Craters of the Moon employees were ordered to go on furlough when Congress was unable to stave off the shutdown. Three employees remain for essential functions, although it is unclear whether they'll be paid for their work, said Ted Stout, chief of interpretation and education for the national monument.

The family of 63-year-old Boise doctor Elliott-Blakeslee — whose hiking companion was found dead at Craters last week — put out the call Monday for help. Craters of the Moon closed Tuesday along with other parts of the National Park Service, but asked staff for volunteers who might want to stay with the search, Stout said.

The Craters search was one notable Idaho effect of the shutdown that began Tuesday and closed federal campgrounds, prompted the furlough of 850 National Guard employees and threatened a program that helps cover food costs for impoverished pregnant women and small children.

U.S. District Court in Boise has enough funding to continue hearing cases for the next 10 business days if Congress doesn't resolve the budget impasse. But some cases could be put on hold, and schedules might have to change if the shutdown lasts beyond 10 business days.

Officials said necessary inspections to ensure public health — meat inspections, for instance — will continue.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's Idaho offices will be unable to provide support to the public, contractors, state and local agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.

But a team of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technical experts is in Elmore and Blaine counties helping state and local governments put together a request for funding to prevent flooding and landslides after the Elk, Pony and Beaver Creek wildfires. Their project funding is from the last budget year, not the 2014 fiscal year that began Tuesday, said Gina Baltrusch, a Corps spokeswoman in Walla Walla, Wash.

"The shutdown isn't going to affect those dollars," Baltrusch said.

COURTS, NATIONAL GUARD, WIC DETAILS

U.S. attorney Wendy Olson said about half of her staff has been furloughed, and attorneys were expecting to file motions to temporarily halt court proceedings in environmental lawsuits, tort cases and other civil matters. The asset forfeiture unit — which helps federal prosecutors recover proceeds from drug trafficking and other crimes to help repay crime victims — is stalled for now.

About half of the Idaho National Guard's 1,700 employees will take furloughs and were banned from reporting to duty until the shutdown is lifted, said spokesman Col. Tim Marsano.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said roughly 42,500 pregnant women, infants and children who receive food under the WIC program could lose benefits next week if the shutdown continues. Benefits continue for now because the program had enough carry-over funds to last about a week, Shanahan said.

"They're monitoring it on a day-to-day basis right now," he said. "So on Monday, if it isn't resolved by then, then they would have to quit issuing vouchers and ask vendors not to accept vouchers after that."

During the past fiscal year, the average WIC recipient in Idaho got about $53 worth of vouchers a month. The program is designed to help ensure that pregnant women and children get the nutrition they need for adequate growth and brain development. If the shutdown continues, local health districts will work to connect WIC recipients with local assistance programs when possible, Shanahan said.

Rocky Barker contributed. Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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