Trump administration reverses decision to close and transfer Job Corps Centers — for now

Part of the Forest Service’s mission is,”Providing work, training, and education to the unemployed, underemployed, elderly, youth, and disadvantaged in pursuit of our mission.”

Oconaluftee Job Corps Center closure
Forest Service Silviculturist Jason Rodrigue explains to the students from the Oconaluftee Job Corps Center in North Carolina the benefits of timber harvesting at the Pisgah National Forest. Oconauluftee is one of the nine Centers that were slated for closure by the Trump Administration. USFS photo.

The Trump administration has reversed their decision, for now anyway, to transfer the management of 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and permanently close 9 of those 25 centers. The plans were to fire about 1,100 Forest Service employees and hire private companies to run the remaining 16 Centers. It would have been the largest reduction in the agency’s workforce in a decade.

A joint statement issued Wednesday night by the Departments of Labor and Agriculture read in part:

Following robust engagement with stakeholders and Members of Congress regarding the future of the USFS Job Corps centers, USDA has notified DOL that the USFS will evaluate the feedback while reviewing its role in Job Corps management and operation. For the time being, USDA does not intend to transfer these centers to DOL to allow management to determine a pathway that will maximize opportunity and results for students, minimize disruptions, and improve overall performance and integrity.

The decision to close nine of the Centers and hire contractors to run the rest provoked very strong reactions from current and former students at the Centers, Forest Service employees, a union representing the employees, citizens, and many politicians in states affected by the closures and firings. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who supports virtually everything that comes out of the White House pressured the administration to rethink the transfer, closing, and contracting plan. Several congressmen introduced various pieces of legislation that would prohibit the implementation of the plan including Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio.

The withdrawal of the gutting of the Forest Service Job Corps Centers, first reported by Politico, came about three weeks after Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen told a group of employees on May 24 that over 1,000 of them would be laid off.

The nine Centers that were going to be permanently closed were in Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Washington Post published Wednesday night:

In a rare break with the administration, Republicans joined Democrats in fighting not just the shutdowns but the effort to hand over operations to private companies. The opponents included Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), whose timber-producing district on the Canadian border already is losing jobs, and Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), whose Southwest Virginia district in Appalachian coal country has yet to see the fruits of Trump’s promises to revive the industry.

With two centers in Kentucky on the closure list, McConnell wrote [Secretary of Agriculture Sonny] Perdue and [Secretary of Labor Alexander] Acosta a letter of protest, citing the loss to “distressed Kentucky counties with unemployment rates above the national average,” which “need more support, not less.”

In a separate letter signed by 51 Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers took issue with the administration’s claim that many of the centers announced for closure were poor performers.

The Job Corps centers, which are run by federal employees, help train youths in wildland firefighting, forestry, culinary arts, welding, construction, and other trades. Their official mission is to educate 16- to 24-year-olds, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, while helping U.S. conservation efforts on public lands. After graduating from the program many of the youths have training, skills, and experience that qualifies them for permanent jobs in government or private industry.

Perhaps Secretary Perdue temporarily forgot the Forest Service motto:

“Caring for the land and serving people.”

He also disregarded one of the elements of the Forest Service mission:

“Providing work, training, and education to the unemployed, underemployed, elderly, youth, and disadvantaged in pursuit of our mission.”

Smoke from the Woodbury Fire near Phoenix will spread east into New Mexico and Texas

wildfire smoke forecast June 19, 2019
The smoke from the Woodbury Fire is expected to blow off to the east Wednesday into Southern New Mexico and Western Texas. The map depicts the forecast for 6 p.m. MDT June 19, 2019.

The smoke from the Woodbury Fire east of Phoenix is expected to blow off to the east Wednesday into Southern New Mexico and Western Texas. The map depicts the forecast for 6 p.m. MDT June 19, 2019.

Woodbury Fire in Arizona adds another 4,000 acres

The fire is 12 miles east of the Phoenix suburbs

satellite photo Woodbury Fire Phoenix Arizona
Satellite photo of smoke from the Woodbury Fire east of Phoenix, Arizona at 7:31 p.m. MDT, June 18, 2019.

The Woodbury Fire 12 miles east of the Phoenix suburbs became very active on the northeast side Tuesday beginning at about 2 p.m., sending up another large column of smoke that blew off to the northeast. It added another 3,894 acres to bring the total up to 44,451 acres.

Tanker 101 tanker 914 Woodbury Fire phoenix
The convection column at the Woodbury Fire shows the beginning of condensation at the top, becoming a pyrocumulus cloud. Tanker 914, a DC-10 is in the foreground, with Tanker 101, an MD87. Photo taken at Phoenix Gateway Airport at 3:18 p.m. MST June 18, 2019. Photo by Ty Miller.

On Wednesday fire crews are preparing for the possibility of the fire moving north towards Roosevelt and east towards the Pinto Mine along Pinto Canyon. Firefighters will be using burnouts and existing black lines to divert fire from the Reavis Ranch, Roosevelt, and mining operations. They will continue the preparations along 500 KV power lines to make them more defensible, masticating brush and building bulldozer lines where appropriate.

Map of the perimeter Woodbury Fire Phoenix Arizona
Map of the perimeter of the Woodbury Fire at 10:41 p.m. MST June 18, 2019.

The smoke is expected to spread to the east on Saturday, becoming noticeable in Southern New Mexico and Western Texas.

wildfire smoke forecast June 19, 2019
The smoke from the Woodbury Fire is expected to blow off to the east on Wednesday into Southern New Mexico and Western Texas. The map depicts the forecast for 6 p.m. MDT June 19, 2019.

Comparing the Woodbury Fire with the five largest in Arizona

Woodbury Fire compared to 5 largest fires in state

The 40,000-acre Woodbury Fire 12 miles east of the Phoenix suburbs is large, but it is nowhere near as big as the five largest in the recorded history of the state, according to the graphic prepared by the Phoenix office of the National Weather Service.

More information about a couple of these fires: Wallow Fire and Horseshoe Two Fire.

Firefighters report “surprising” fire behavior in beetle-attacked lodgepole forests

surprising fire behavior beetle-attacked lodgepole forest fires
The researchers interviewed senior firefighters who worked on 13 wildfires in beetle-attacked areas of Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming between 2010 and 2012. Image from the research. Click to enlarge.

In 28 interviews of experienced wildland firefighters of seven different agencies in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming researchers asked them about their observations of fire behavior in beetle-attacked lodgepole pine forests, with a focus on what they considered surprising from a fire behavior standpoint and how this in turn affected their suppression tactics. The interviews focused on 13 wildfires that occurred during the 2010 through 2012 fire seasons.

Below is an excerpt from a paper written by the researchers:

“The surprises in fire behavior experienced by firefighters during the red phase of post-outbreak forests included an elevated level of fire spread and intensity under moderate weather and fuel moisture conditions, increased spotting, and faster surface-to-crown fire transitions with limited or no ladder fuels.

“Unexpectedly, during the gray phase in mountain pine beetle-attacked stands, crown ignition and crown fire propagation was observed for short periods of time. Firefighters are now more likely to expect to see active fire behavior in nearly all fire weather and fuel moisture conditions, not just under critically dry and windy situations, and across all mountain pine beetle attack phases, not just the red phase. Firefighters changed their suppression tactics by adopting indirect methods due to the potential fire behavior and tree-fall hazards associated with mountain pine beetle-attacked lodgepole pine forests.”

Download the research paper (1 Mb)

Woodbury Fire east of Phoenix grows to over 40,000 acres

3-D map of the Woodbury Fire
3-D map of the Woodbury Fire mapped at 10:20 p.m. MST June 17, 2019. Looking west toward Phoenix. Wildfire Today. Click to enlarge.

The Woodbury Fire 12 miles east of the Phoenix suburbs has burned 40,557 acres, mostly in the Tonto National Forest in the 11 days since it started. The agency is not attempting to completely suppress it, but instead is using a variety of strategies.

The weather forecast for the fire area over the next seven days looks very static, with high temperatures in the Tortilla Flat area around 100 degrees and no expectation of precipitation. The wind should be about 8 to 10 mph out of the south and southwest during the daylight hours.

Resources assigned to the fire include 18 hand crews, 34 engines, and 6 helicopters, for a total of 747 personnel.

The smoke forecast for 6 p.m. MDT on Tuesday shows the smoke plume from the fire being pushed off to the northeast, away from the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.

wildfire smoke forecast
Forecast for the distribution of smoke from wildfires at 6 p.m. MDT June 18, 2019.

Below is a summary of Monday’s activities released by the Incident Management Team at 9 p.m. on Monday.

[Monday]: Early this morning helicopters used aerial ignition and began a low intensity fire in the Reavis Ranch area to reduce vegetation in front of the advancing fire. These efforts were taken to protect Mexican spotted owl habitat, some stands of ponderosa pine and an old apple orchard As predicted, the fire moved east through the area today from Iron Mountain/Angel Basin, creating a large smoke plume and dropping ash as far as the communities of Tonto Basin and Roosevelt. While increased smoke and ash will continue in coming days, at this time there are no evacuations in place for these communities. All evacuation notices, if needed, will come directly from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.

Heli-rappellers and hotshot crews joined efforts to fight fire near Hewitt Ridge today. The hotshots will remain in the area overnight. Other hotshots completed suppression efforts in the Buzzard Roost area along the boundary of Forest and State lands. Retardant drops in the Coffee Flat /Valley Canyon area were effective in preventing fire spread; crews will be used to reinforce the line as needed. All of these suppression actions help tie together a contiguous line around the fire, and stop its spread southwest towards State and private lands, and local communities. Retardant and water drops were also used successfully in other areas of the fire.

Structure protection and fuels reduction efforts continue on the north boundary of the fire along State Highway 88, including mowing of roadside fuels in the road corridor and around power transmission poles. Heavy equipment is being used on the northeast and east sides of the fire to improve roads and protect the 500 KV lines that provide power for Phoenix. Protection for other infrastructure is in development.

Closures: State Highway 88 is closed from Needle Vista east to the junction of State Highway 88 and State Highway 188. This includes Tortilla Flat, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and campsites along State Highway 88.

map of the Woodbury Fire
Map of the Woodbury Fire mapped at 10:20 p.m. MST June 17, 2019. Wildfire Today.
Satellite photo Woodbury Fire
Satellite photo of the Woodbury Fire at 6:06 p.m. MDT June 17, 2019.