Shawna Legarza to retire from the Forest Service Fire Director position

She has accepted a job with a local government in Colorado

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Shawna Legarza Aerial firefighting conference
Shawna Legarza makes a presentation at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Shawna Legarza announced that she will be retiring from her position as Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service. In an email message to other employees she said it will be effective on June 30th.

“Now, the next chapters of my life will continue as I have accepted a position with local government as the Emergency Management Coordinator in Durango, Colorado,” she explained in the email. “A place very special in my heart, built upon the practice of the 4 P’s and closer to my friends and family.”

Shawna Lagarza Tom Harbour
Shawna Legarza, the Director of Fire and Aviation for the U.S. Forest Service’s California Region, and Tom Harbour, the Director of Fire and Aviation for the Forest Service, at the Rose Parade, January 1, 2015.

She was selected as the national Director of Fire and Aviation in June, 2016, taking the place of Tom Harbour who retired at the end of 2015. Previously Ms. Legarza was the regional Fire Director for the Forest Service’s California region.

Ms. Legarza launched her federal career with the Bureau of Land Management in 1989 as an engine crew member in Elko, NV. A short time later, she joined the Forest Service and worked as a hotshot crew member in Carson City, NV, and a Hotshot Superintendent in Durango, CO. She subsequently took on a number of leadership positions in fire and aviation that include District Fire Management Officer on the San Juan National Forest, CO, and Forest Fire Management Officer on the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California.

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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.

11 thoughts on “Shawna Legarza to retire from the Forest Service Fire Director position”

  1. That speaks volumes that even the Director of USFS Fire is leaving for other agencies.

  2. Her legacy will forever include treatment of the aerial firefighting industry that, at best, can be described as fundamentally adversarial. Ours is an industry made up of companies that year in and year out teeter on the brink of financial ruin. USFS Aviation under her leadership not only failed to improve the relationship with industry, it set it back by a decade.

    There is $0 from the USFS to share in the cost of developing next gen aerial firefighting technologies. The entire burden/risk falls on companies. Not surprisingly, America has gotten what it paid for — zip in terms of breakthrough new firefighting tech.

    What a mess. Remember in 2 months when the U.S. is ablaze…there are only appx 20 fixed wing aircraft available via existing USFS EU and CWN contracts. That’s utterly irresponsible! Then remember who was in charge…till she jumped ship as the 2020 fire season began.

  3. The lagarza legacy includes ruining cooperative fire department agreements for partipation on IMTs. Leaving the job during the covid 19 impacted fire season.
    What did lagarza accomplish?

    Thx Bill for sharing this info

  4. Probably fully vested in her retirement program and eligible: sounds like a good sound personal finance decision, and not in DC as well. Good luck back in Colorado.

  5. Thank you Shawna for all the GOOD work you have accomplished here in Region 5. And thank you for all your support in the fire world. Good luck in your new job. That are blessed to have you. And your finally getting to go home. You go girl.

  6. Bandito

    It is not the Forest Service.. there are some fine hardworking professionals within the industry. Yet with any industry there are some out there to cause confusion and chaos…some intentionally and some unintentional.

    Thank you Bill for the article.
    One prayer answered.

    I hope she is happy in her new paths…

  7. I will always remember Legaraza for her contribution to the Battlement Creek Fire…was it possibly the altering Wildland Fire Fatality history with her approval of the Staff Ride?…ask many people who know…I am just a student of fire learning.

  8. There always comes a time to move on in a leadership role, she truly made her mark by improving safety for the line people and was always a pleasure to work with! Durango is lucky to have a person with vision, integrity and a positive spirit join their team, the forest Service will need to look deep for her replacement!

    Good luck Shawna you have done us and yourself proud and another soul is very proud of you as well!


  9. What a fine time to leave Lucille. During the Covid 19 Pandemic with fire season coming up leaving a ship without a Captain shows a great deal of leadership. At least it can be said not on my watch. Surely can not blame her for wanting to leave who wants to be responsible for being one that could cause many deaths in First Responders on wildland fires. Reading the Lessons Learned AAR, it seems more questions arise then answers.

  10. Niether Harbour or Lagarza did anything to help fix the horrible mess that has become Forest Service fire. I doubt the next one will either. Weak leadership is now the hallmark of a once fairly good organizztion.

  11. One final point to add to Ms. Lagarza’s legacy.

    It has been nearly a decade since Congress mandated that the U.S. Forest Service complete the foundational analysis of the relative effectiveness of various aerial firefighting platforms and technology — the Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (AFUE) study.

    This study was required by Congress (aka the American people) as budgeting and technology development guidance with a simple goal of saving lives, homes, communities and treasured American natural resources. And billions of taxpayer dollars.

    The U.S. Forest Service is well aware of reality — completing this study would shine a bright light on their utter incompetence. So what do they do? Simple, stonewall and lie to Congress and the American people. Just keep promising the report, but never deliver.

    Here’s the latest unbelievably egregious, unfulfilled promise from Ms. Lagarza, via her boss Chief Christianson, this time captured on video, where Forest Service tells a Senate committee in no uncertain terms the study will be in their hands “by June.” Madam Director, it’s June! Watch the C-SPAN clip —

    So, Ms. Lagarza, your legacy could’ve included doing your job and completing the foundational study and strategy for aerial firefighting in the future. Instead, you basically gave Congress and the American people the finger. How is it you think you can just blow off a Congressional mandate?!

    By the way, come clean, you spent over $10m of taxpayer money having this crew ( of incompetent bureaucrats called the AFUE team do absolutely nothing. Geez, you could’ve at least given RAND another $4m to pretend to study the situation.

    It’s time for the Dept. of Agriculture Inspector General to step in and fix this mess. Secretary Perdue — we have a problem. You’ll see it in all its glory in the next 7 months as the 2020 wildfire season unfolds.

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