US Forest Service Chief does damage control

As a government employee for an agency that provides essential emergency management services, you are not expected to say that your agency does not have enough resources to conduct their routine activities. But that is what Jim Hubbard, the Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry for the U.S. Forest Service was quoted as saying in an article in the San Francisco Examiner which we covered September 17. Mr. Hubbard, according to the article, said the USFS does not have enough resources to manage long-duration wildfires. This was the reason he gave for their policy this summer of full suppression of all fires, rather than letting some fires burn through remote areas for weeks or months with only minimum intervention by firefighters. In a two-page memo earlier this summer he directed that any fire strategy with restoration as one of the objectives must first be approved by a Regional Forester.

In the Associated Press article that was published on September 16, Mr. Hubbard was quoted as saying, “It looked like a fire year that would exceed our resource capacity to respond. We didn’t have the resources to cover long-duration events”.

Mr. Hubbard’s boss, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Tom Tidwell, in a “guest commentary” at the Denver Post, is now doing damage control about Mr. Hubbard’s comments, saying “our fire-management policy has not changed” and that restoring the health of our nation’s forests continues to be a “cornerstone”. He said “The Forest Service has the personnel and equipment to continue our policy of restoring the health of our nation’s forests”, and, “A national guidance memo by Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard in no way represents a departure from our standard fire-response policy.”

Mr. Tidwell explained that with the predicted severity of this summer’s fire season, they decided to be conservative in their approach to managing long-term fires, and directed that Regional Foresters be involved in decisions that had the potential to tie up large numbers of firefighting resources.

Our take on this is that to an extent, Mr. Tidwell confirms that a shortage of firefighting resources was indeed an issue. The primary theme of his article was that forest restoration will continue. While saying there were enough personnel and equipment “to continue our policy of restoring the health of our nation’s forests”, he never actually said there were enough to run a successful fire management program. The article emphasized restoration far more than fire suppression — which is not surprising for an agency that primarily grows trees, and has been forced to run a fire suppression organization on the side.

This approach will only encourage those who have been saying for decades that the five federal land management agencies need to divorce themselves from their fire management organizations to allow them to marry-up as a Wildland Fire Management Agency.


Thanks go out to Kelly

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

8 thoughts on “US Forest Service Chief does damage control”

  1. A ” wildfire service” would quickly be absorbed as an Adenomatous Polyp deep into the bowels of Homeland Security and would not be managed by individuals with wildfire experience anymore than the other luckless, formerly independent agencies e.g. Coast Guard, Immigration & Naturalization, Border Patrol are now managed by their own skilled people. Think about how well things work when FEMA is involved in wildland fire and multiply by a factor of 10 … Residing within the federal land management agencies is not the best but if you really think it would be better outside, please pass the pipe.

  2. Funny thing is, most fires that are allowed to burn to restore a natural fire cycle require far fewer personnel than actively suppressed fires. I believe the fact is that the FS has developed few crews that are trained in managing these types of fires. There has also been negative publicity with regards to long term fires.

  3. The bigger the agency the more Bureaucracy-See Jerry Pornelle’s “Iron Law of Bureaucracy”.
    IF they copied CalFire, fine, but that in my opinion,
    won’t happen. I’ve spent too many years in aviation working with many alphabet agencies to know that a bigger management system ain’t the answer..
    However, a merger of the USFS/BLM may have a chance.
    Under Interior…

  4. Things that make one go….”.hhmmmmmmmmmmm”

    As TG says….CalFire and BMS (bigger management systems)

    Yep Merge the USFS in to the Interior Dept…..Pinchot is rolling in his grave about these current day “decisions.”

    Just because the USFS has been doing fire alll these years does not mean it could not be housed under DHS / FEMA …you know the….. FMAG people have to come to love and enjoy getting the Fed reimbursables.

    Just because its been “done this way for all these years” doesn’t mean someone else (another alphabet agency) could not do it better.

    IT IS ’bout time Ag and Interior get merged……there would be alot of crying…BUT it is time to pay the piper…alot of these programs can barely stand on their own ….spellll airtankers under USFS funding…..

    Yeehaw….can’t wait for the ride to begin!!!!

  5. Well I would not want to see wildfire under FEMA or Homeland Security both are large, cumbersome and political. Yes to the idea that the Forest Service is moved to Interior. Consolidation of services and even saving some money.

    In getting back to the subject of this post I feel that some one might be reassigned to a remote, small, cold, wet location or be seeking employment soon or even join the 47% club.

  6. Nice – now we look even more like a bunch of idiots – The truth is: We do not have enough resources to fight long duration fires or any other fires for that matter – Yes we catch countless fires during IA and even short extended attacks – however when things start to get going with large fires in 1 region let alone 3 or 4 regions we become tapped out quickly – We have done a rather good job this year at trying to release as many resources out into the wild as possible but If you were to go on any large fire this year you will find a ton of non-agency resources – I have heard of countless fires that had no green/yellow or FD engines – Tell me what is wrong with this picture – Apparently we have enough of our own resources to do the job??? – As for the resource benefit/objective fires – we were told that it was notan option this year – we missed out on countless opportunities to have fire play its role on the landscape this year – Most of our resource objective fires cost a considerable amount less than a full supression fire and only take a fraction of the resources to manage – I know it is all politics but come on! – I say hell yes lets put together a national fire service – People wonder why our costs are through the roof – If you were on a job and you knew that you could make a ton of money as long as you were needed why would you want to leave (you know what ia ma talking about) – We had tons of fires this year that did not have high amounts of aircraft flying so where do you think the $$ is going – It sure isn’t filtering into our budgets –

  7. The painful reality is that the FS is an executive agency which is required by law to repeat the party line of the President. If the President says we have enough resources, then we have enough resources, even if we dont (and we don’t).

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