Forest Service expects to substantially increase the number of firefighters this year

Personnel from the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior testified Tuesday before a Congressional Committee

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Congressional hearing, April 5, 2022
Witnesses in the hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, April 5, 2022. L to R: Brian Ferebee (FS), Jaelith Hall-Rivera (FS), Jeff Rupert (Dept. of Interior).

The standard line from the US Forest Service about the number of wildland firefighters in the agency has been 10,000 wildland firefighters nationwide, but in recent years they have been unable to fill all of their positions due to difficulties in recruitment and retention. The San Francisco Chronicle (subscription) reported that in 2021 the number stationed in California dropped from 5,000 in 2019 to 3,956, more than a 20 percent decline.

In a hearing today before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, the Forest Service said they believe they are turning that problem around.

Representative Katie Porter from California asked how many firefighters does the agency need to have. Jaelith Hall-Rivera, USFS Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry said their goal this year is 11,300. That would be 13 percent more than the maximum they have had in recent memory.

When Rep. Porter asked how many they have now, Ms. Hall-Rivera said she didn’t know because they are still hiring.

“We just completed an additional fire hire event in California at the end of March and those numbers are still coming in,” Ms. Hall-Rivera said. “I do think we are on pace [to meet that goal]. By all accounts that hiring event went very well. Importantly what we are seeing is a very high acceptance rate in our permanent and seasonal permanent firefighting positions, which is what we want. We want to be able to convert this workforce to have more or a larger proportion of it to be permanent and a smaller proportion of it be temporary… We think that we will be at the capacity we need at the Forest Service this year.”

“That’s really great to hear,” Rep. Porter said, “because as you know last year according to the National Federation of Federal Employees, about 30 percent of the federal hotshot crews that worked on the front lines of wildfires in California were understaffed. Last year the Forest Service had 60 fire engines in California alone that were idled because of understaffing. I’m very heartened to hear a concrete number, a concrete goal, for what full staffing looks like.”

Rep. Porter asked how much it costs to bring in firefighters from other fire departments when the Forest Service does not have adequate staffing for fire suppression. Ms. Hall-Rivera said she did not have those numbers, but would get back to the Representative. Firefighters from CAL FIRE and municipal fire departments make two to three times what federal wildland firefighters make and they get paid 24 hours a day, “portal to portal”, for weeks on large fires until they are back in their own station. Federal firefighters are usually limited to 16 hours a day, and are forced to take a 30 minute lunch break even when they are on the steep slope of a God-forsaken ridge breathing smoke miles from the nearest road.

Earlier Ms. Hall-Rivera said the Forest Service has lost 40 percent of their non-fire workforce. This reduction in personnel, some of  whom were qualified to be assigned to a fire in addition to their regular duties, can increase the difficulty of staffing fires and other incidents.

Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission

Rep. Yvette Herrell of New Mexico asked when members would be appointed to the new Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, which was required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, H.R.3684, signed by the President on November 15, 2021. The law required that the appointments were to be made by January 14, 2022. Their initial meeting was to be held no later than February 13, 2022.

Ms. Hall-Rivera said the announcement for applications closed last Friday after receiving more than 500 responses. The members will be selected “in a month or two,” she said.

Tamarack Fire and aggressive initial attack

Representative Tom McClintock of California, brought up the subject of the Tamarack Fire in California which was monitored but not suppressed for 13 days while it was very small. It burned at least 15 structures and more than 67,000 acres as it ran from California into Nevada jumping Highway 395 and prompting the evacuation of 2,000 people.

“This is insane,” Rep. McCLintock said, referring to the management of the fire. “Please tell me that you are dropping that policy and you will be vigorously attacking fires on their initial discovery rather than waiting for them to become one of these massive conflagrations.”

“We put out 98 percent of fires on initial attack,” Ms. Hall-Rivera said. “The Tamarack Fire is one of those 2 percent that we were not able to do that because we were resource-limited in the country as a whole.”

“You deliberately sat on it,” Rep. McClintock said. “Can you assure me that henceforth upon discovery of a fire you will order an aggressive initial attack?”

“Yes, Congressman, that is what we do,” said Hall-Rivera.

Goals for fuel treatment

“While the Forest Service’s budget has more than doubled since 2014, the amount of hazardous fuels treatment has remained frustratingly stagnant, only addressing roughly two percent of their needs annually,” said Rep. Herrell. “I am concerned that the recently announced 10-year strategy to combat the wildfire crisis will fall short because not only are the tools not in place to implement this strategy, but the Forest Service is also only relying on only 5 years of funding to execute a 10-year plan. This is especially concerning considering yesterday’s release of the Department of the Interior’s wildfire strategy which is only 5 years.”

“The Infrastructure law was a significant step in the right direction in terms of wildland firefighter compensation, and once again I thank you for your work on that,” Ms. Hall-Rivera replied. “But we need to continue to work together to find a permanent solution to increasing our wildland firefighters’ pay and making other system changes that insure that we can continue to support our firefighters and insure that this is a career that others will pursue in the future.”

Rep. Herrell asked why the 10-year strategy included no references to how it will be implemented. Ms. Hall-Rivera said that it was a timing issue, in that the strategy was being prepared while the legislation was being considered.

Staffing for the additional fuel management workload

Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona asked in regards to the additional funding and new initiatives outlined in the Infrastructure legislation, “Does the Forest Service have adequate staff capacity to fill the new dollars they will be responsible with implementing, and how does the Forest Service intend to address staffing capacities with new hiring?”

After Ms. Hall-Rivera and Brian Ferebee, Chief Executive of Intergovernmental Relations for the Forest Service, glanced at each other, Mr. Ferebee turned on his microphone and basically said they were looking at the issue.

My take:

I did not summarize every topic that came up in the hearing, but attempted to capture the most significant ones related to wildland fire. After reading through the above, I noticed a trend: PLANNING, and a lack thereof.

  1. Failure to meet the deadlines required for the establishing the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission.
  2. Planning to rely on only 5 years of funding to execute a 10-year plan for fuel management.
  3. The 10-year strategy included no references to how it will be implemented. “The strategy was being prepared while the legislation was being considered.”
  4. The Forest Service does not know if they have enough staffing to accomplish the new initiatives outlined in the Infrastructure legislation.

It reminds me of the effort by Congress to transfer seven C-130 aircraft to the Forest Service to be converted to air tankers.

On December 27, 2013, President Obama signed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act which directed the Coast Guard to transfer seven HC-130H aircraft to the U.S. Forest Service. The legislation also supplied $130 million for the Air Force to perform needed maintenance on the aircraft and to convert them into air tankers.

About 522 days later, on June 1, 2015 the FS distributed internally a “Briefing Paper” that revealed the agency was not prepared to manage a long term safety oversight program for this government owned/contractor operated venture (GO/CO). On that date the the FS had no detailed operating plan and had not hired or appointed any long-term, full-time safety personnel. The document also stated that “the military model for a squadron of seven HC-130H aircraft is to have TWO [sic] full time safety officers assigned.”

“The time frame to create one or more new positions to provide aviation safety oversight duties”, the Briefing Paper said, “would likely be lengthy and not meet Agency HC-130H requirements in time for the 2015 fire season.”

The FS did not use the 522 days to plan for the absorption of the aircraft into the fleet.

They came to a conclusion, according to the Briefing Paper:

This is a new program for the Forest Service, one that we have never managed before (We don’t know what we don’t know).

Eventually, more than four years after the transfer and tens of millions had likely been spent on the refurbishment of the seven aircraft, the Forest Service decided they did not want the air tankers. Congress passed additional legislation to give the seven HC-130Hs to the state of California instead.

Video of the hearing:

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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.

42 thoughts on “Forest Service expects to substantially increase the number of firefighters this year”

  1. What’s Albuquerque Service Center going to do with alllll the influx of applications? Will the ROs and DOs be able to hire off the lists fast enough? “Fire Season” has been goin on since 2020. LOL, Good Luck!

  2. Forty dollars a week and a tarp to sleep under! What’s not to like?
    All this and a guaranteed layoff when you need to boot up the winter! Oh, yeah!
    How long has the FS been treating its people this way? Ever since its inception!

  3. What is happening with the federal wildland firefighters series and the pay increases this season?

  4. Woof, that is a lot to unpack…and the season is upon us and it’s too mentally taxing to even bother to rebut so much of the content of this hearing. So, I’ll summarize; the Forest service should not blatantly lie to congress, like say in regard to successfully filing staffing needs. That is bad, and violates quite a bit of the duty, honor, respect stuff. The Forest service should know how and who fights fires effectively and efficiently. Just because you can ramp up to 29k with militia and ADs does not mean these people are able to hammer it like hotshots or dialed modules. They are not professional fire fighters. And don’t get me wrong I appreciate the extra folks and in your shoes I’d do the same but militi and ADs are essentially retiree and white collar agency welfare programs. GS12 goes and does a two week roll in logs and pays their mortgage for six months without putting anything at risk. I miss two weeks of suppression in August and I can’t pay rent come February. Own the reality! If the agency management had any leadership qualities they would speak the truth or find people who can. They would also advocate for the health and well-being of their agencies rather than this maddening game of CYA.

  5. Well, if they keep on the path of trying hard not to pay the back pay and raises for existing firefighters, they are going to end up with fewer not increased staffing. Pay these firefighters what they are already due and begin treating them like the valuable resources they are. This isn’t tough, just do it.

  6. I think Jaelith is doing her best in a difficult situation, but the reason for an “additional round of fire hire” would be because the last round failed. So by definition it’s not going well.

    Maybe “I don’t know” was the best response, because it seems like the information isn’t making it up to leadership in DC. Oh well, we’ll have the receipts soon enough because fire hire starts making offers on Monday.

    Rep. Porter & Neguse and others are awesome. It must be frustrating passing laws and getting funds only to have it blocked by the agencies.

    Stay patient folks, we know it’s bad out there. Transparency and rationale should be the minimum employees get from their DC leadership.

    I really like Jeff Rupert, his response to Westerman was really awesome, especially after Jaelith and Ferebee kinda sidestepped the question.

    Let’s keep it positive. This is a huge endeavor with thousands of PDs and new classification and Pay Scale, and although I hope for more transparency, we need to recognize this is a systemic issue and not any individual’s fault.

  7. Ground hog day, see ya next year, same place, same time, same issues. “I got you babe”

  8. Ok. Here we go! I watched the hearing. It was about 2 hours long and here are the reoccurring issues (or the categories if you want to play Congressional BINGO):

    1) Poor Management
    2) Climate Change
    3) Staffing
    4) 28 Billion dollars
    5) 50 Million Acres
    6) Timber Sales
    7) Litigation
    8) NEPA
    9) ESA
    10) 10 O’clock Rule
    11) Strategic Plan
    12) Lack of Timber Sales
    13) Criminal Acts
    14) Hiding Money
    15) Why do we need another Commission?
    16) Are you going to come back for more money?
    17) You watched the fire and it exploded!
    18) Marijana
    19) This is Not Rocket Science
    20) Not a lot is getting done!
    21) FS is not doing what they agreed to do
    22) FS is doing a disservice to Texas and other areas
    23) This is not Climate Change
    24) It took 4 months for the FS is get back to us
    25) Why do we need the FS?


    So, the things I wanted to comment on are as follows:
    1) Litigation – So, Mr. Westerman, I actually agree with some of the things you said, but I don’t think you understand why some of us have sued the USDA/FS. I was sexually assaulted and then fired and I spent over $100,000 to try to be re-instated. Which makes no sense because the FS has a shortage of employees. They could have saved millions of dollars if they had just re-instated me and other women and let us do our jobs. So, I’m not sure what you meant by some of your comments. Sorry that people have to sue the FS, but if they don’t sue than the FS will continue to commit crimes.
    2) Ms. Porter, loved your questions! Too bad Ms. Hall-Rivera couldn’t answer them.
    3) Mr. McClintock, thank you so much for expressing your anger at the FS!!! I wish my rep showed the same anger about the over 1000 houses lost in a wildfire. And yes, Mr. McClintock the FS “watched” that fire. They let it get out of hand!!!
    4) Mr. Gohmert, I loved what you said!!! Loved it!!! It should not take 4 months for the FS to respond. I’m from Texas and was raised in East Texas and I totally agree. The Forest Service assisted in criminal acts. I think you should take the land back and give it the local people. It’s illegal to grow marijuana in Texas, why are y’all letting people get away with growing it on FS lands.

    Finally, here some advice…
    1) If you go to a hearing wear something nice and make sure it fits.
    2) Do not say, that’s a good question. They know it’s a good question, They asked it!
    3) If you’re asked a question don’t say you don’t know, especially when it is your job to know. Say, I’ll get back to you with the specifics or I’ll get back to you with the details. But I did love your answer about the Strategic Plan. A Strategic Plan without an actual plan. NIIICE!!!
    4) If you’re asked a question don’t lie!!! Come on, you just got the money how did you hire all these people when you just got the money. I mean, many of the positions haven’t been posted on USAJobs. And how can you say that you want more perms, when these jobs are temps. Still don’t understand that one!

    If you can’t sleep or you need to get angry at something, watch this hearing! Enjoy!

  9. Yet many districts and forests cannot fill their already vacant positions? Announcing them more than once… What a system….

  10. Hahaha…tears of sadness watching the FS implode. We are having difficulty filling not only fire positions but archeologists, biologists, trail crew, etc. On the forest I work on we are missing 2 engine captains, 6 asst. engine captains, 1 AFMO, 1 prevention, misc suppression crew leads, probably 10-15 seasonals, all of this AFTER multiple rounds of perm and temp fire hire. We are using emergency hire authority and ADs to fill gaps. Clearly someone is not communicating up the chain or perhaps they are telling congress what they think sounds good. We need a real 20-30 year plan to fix the staffing issue, fixed funding for suppression resources, real recruitment assistance from the WO, and a clear communication plan on how they are going to implement new classification, pay, benefits and retention from the WO FAM group. Up to date we have received ZERO communication and we trudge on, ready for another season of helping our neighbors, citizens, and wildlands we love while we lean over the precipice.

  11. If increasing employee numbers this year is referring to giving a “soft offer” in November for jobs that will start in March 2023 while leaving those candidates in limbo waiting for an actual offer for 2 months then this may be kind of accurate. The fact is, that no matter how many times or phases we go through fire hire…all of that paperwork has to make through Albuquerque who will delay and or drop the ball on a large percentage of those hires. It’s just a fact of hiring at this point. The system hasn’t worked for years and no one in a position of power is listening to the folks that have been saying it doesn’t work. I have been told verbatim from WO fire leadership that it will not change in my career. The way the agency takes care of it’s employees is made clear directly from the hiring process that leaves you wondering for weeks/months if you are even being considered. Once you get that offer you are left waiting a ridiculous amount of time to to get an official letter and start date. At least the agency is clear about creating anxiety and stress for you and your loved ones from day zero. Oh, and lets not forget that this information isn’t being presented to the powers that could change it. How much longer until retirement?

  12. To add to my very long posting…Forest Service you could have saved a lot of money in litigation if you had settled. I fought for 5 years and I have lost friends, family members, money, and pretty much everything I have. The FS has attacked me multiple times and tried to break into my home in 2 different states. I want you to know Forest Service if you kill me, as you have tried to do in the past…the photos, yes all the dick pics and the videos will come out!!! Leave me, my friends, and my family alone!!!

  13. Maybe we ought stop bringing up the issue of the NDAA 2014 and the c130 and stick with true wildland fire staffing issues
    The USFS was never set up for the C130 program in that staffing arena whatsoever and it was explained rather well by those in the aviation industry as a whole. WE get it, the folks with the mechanics and pilots licenses. WE KNOW who didn’t get it.

    Let’s center on staffing issues and WFF pay and the personnel and HR practices that plague the organization.

    Once again, we KNOW why the C130 wasn’t going to survive with this organization

  14. Not sure what makes her think hiring is going well. I helped with the r5 temp hiring and it was disastrous. We still have tons of vacancies. Last fall hire yielded little, and from what I’m hearing is that spring hire is mostly unfruitful as well (at least on my forest). These regional and national level leaders need to be telling our elected officials the straight scoop and quit sugar coating, or in my opinion, outright lying about the state of recruitment/retention.

  15. MGT. beats around the bush when problems are brought up , they don’t want to give pay raises to fire people .I have been with Forest Service for 48 years including my ad and contracting work. I was made to quit my fire team work because of conflict,never have I been on fire where my position as a team member had any thing to do with my contracted equipment. 47 fire seasons and now my knowledge is gone from the positions that are hard to fill.

  16. Interesting take on hiring considering one district in CA could only fill ONE of the dozen open 1039 positions.

    This will mean shuttering two out of three engines for the summer.

    Worst hiring event in a decade. Go touch grass Ms. Hall-Rivera.

  17. Hmmm. In the last hire (Fall) we filled less than 40% of openings. Currently hiring (spring) and I’ve never seen such a small pool of experienced, qualified individuals. Every module on my Forest is severely understaffed, mostly in the overhead positions.

    But, hey, according to these folks, we have sooo many to choose from!! Does that mean I no longer have to work above my PD all the time? Yay!!! (Sarcasm)

  18. So how are we wronging Texas? By not sending our already thin resources gearing up for fire season on Federal lands to protect private lands? Texas is a great example of the misinformation that is being used “year round fire season” In some places on federal lands this is true. We can’t, and shouldn’t be lying about it using examples like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas. We are the USFS and DOI. Not the state and private land response. If we have resources available and they are requested, we should help. We shouldn’t be exhausting our own resources by protecting land or cities that are not our primary scope of practice. We are not 911 for the US.

  19. No one wants to work here anymore.. poor pay, horrible hours, horrible treatment, and they don’t take care of their own. Im wondering where they plan on getting these employees. How are they going to “substantially increase their workforce”
    The WO and RO need to realize whats really happing on the ground and get their heads out of the clouds.

  20. According to Mr. Gohmert local police chased a man onto Forest Service land. The police then contacted the Forest Service to continue their pursuit. The Forest Service didn’t get back to the police for 4 days allowing the man to get away. This seems to be a jurisdictional (and a communication) problem. But, not a problem if you are a criminal. Seems to me if you do something wrong you can just run to the Forest Service and then they’ll protect you.

  21. Well considering we have 3 LEO’s on the forest i work on, for over 3 million acres. I can understand that delayed response. Also depending on time of year if any are on annual leave that number could be less. As well local law enforcement is allowed to continue pursuit onto federal lands as its an agreement where our FS LEO’s will assist if possible. That being said we are fortunate to be near a large metropolitan city and have many county Sheriffs that assist us at all times especially during severity. Probably need to check your statements a little before posting non sense! Just saying

  22. Frank, I totally agree with you. But, did you notice how they were talking about ESA as if it’s a problem and getting around NEPA? It was a little concerning. NEPA is a good planning tool. I’ve done 500 NEPA projects in 1 month. I use to train people how to do NEPA and before they fired me I was stream lining the NEPA process. The issue is not NEPA it’s having the people to do NEPA.

  23. It’s been pretty obvious to me in my 30 year air attack career as a State agency employee where we measure “aggressive” initial attack response in minutes, the USFS has slipped to measuring aggressive initial attack to at best in hours and at times measured in days.

  24. Agreed. The big wheel has almost stopped entirely. Without massive investment over decades – we wont see the wheel get going again. The training and experience that has been forsaken will take decades to rebuild – IF – huge investments in human capital are initiated TODAY : (training, equipment, experience, benefits, work to life balance, option to choose year round or partial year appointments, pay commensurate with industry).

    OPM, USDA, and INTERIOR are in an extremely critical situation. The treadmill was placed in the corner of a room, they jumped on, slipped and now are a bloody mess continually having more skin taken off by the treadmill that continues to pin them down and grind them into the corner. Hindsight could have informed them that the treadmill shouldnt be placed there, that injuries would be expensive, that staying sober could have prevented a slip — but they went ahead anyways and now look what happened. And now while the treadmill is still burning off what little skin remains – the heads of the regions, state offices, district offices, washington office – refused to admit that anything is wrong for years! Boosted by the boomer has-beens and once-was attitude they led the agencies into a massive self inflicted mind / body / soul torture of denial. Monkey see no hear no speak no evil! Heads in the sand! Courage lost! Staff forsaken! Take a look at FY23 budget request for USDA – the hypocrisy runs deep.

  25. I’m a little confused…Ms. Hall-Rivera said that the FS had 2 job fairs and they hired tons people…then she talked about hiring perms…I though you could only hire temps at job fairs and you have to go through USAJobs to hire perms. Is that true? Because, I haven’t seen a lot of jobs on USAJobs…and the ones I’ve seen have been GS-6 and below.

  26. You have overlooked a couple of considerations with your comment.
    Interagency resource sharing works both ways and is critical especially in times of shortages of crews and skilled overhead positions. You also forget that the Forest Service is a National level agency funded by taxes paid by citizens of all 50 states.

    Perhaps if your agency instituted an aggressive initial attack strategy with measurable parameters similar to other agencies who are more successful in fire suppression, that could lead to a reduction in project fires which are resource gobblers.

  27. “Aggressive initial attack”.

    Here’s a situation I had several times during my career in the Central Sierras south of where the Tamarack fire started.

    A Mid-July lightning fire at 11,500′ elevation in a group of conifer that has a potential of maybe a quarter acre. It is surrounded by a 50 acre granite field. The next closest patch of vegetation is again a small group of trees maybe a quarter acre in size and again surrounded by large granite field. Do I aggressively IA this by 1) risking a high elevation helicopter landing to put boots on the ground 2) risk a rappel operation 3) call for jumpers and have them land in a rock field 4) send a crew to hike 15 miles to the fire 5) spend about $15,000 on a retardant drop 6) use a helicopter for water drops 7) all the above?

    Or should I spend about an hour of my time in the office filling out paper work, walk down the hall to have the boss sign it where he tells me “this is a ridicules amount of paperwork to let a high elevation fire in the High Sierras burn out by it self”?

  28. You nailed it. These armchair quarterback duty officers are a dime a dozen but they’ve never been in the hot seat making real time decisions, balancing risk/reward, asking young folks to take on a ridiculous amount of risk for a statistically inconsequential start (until it isn’t) or prioritizing multiple starts with limited resources. All these folks that seem to brag about suppression rates of particular agencies can drive right up to their fires and have heavy equipment on the scene quickly. A lot different in the mountains, from risks to logistics.

  29. As an AFEO, I am giving the forest service one more year and if no pay raise is seen, I will be leaving. One more year of missing my kids sports. I can’t wait to quit. After 15 years, 9 of them seasonal I can’t believe this is where I am, but this is no life for a family man.

  30. I just heard BLM California has 35-45% of their permanent positions vacant right now. All the land management agencies are fighting for the same shrinking pool of workers. The desirable locations might do well, at attracting entry level workers but the more remote forests are going to struggle. How come these representatives are not telling it straight…. Also Tom McClintok is a d-bag

  31. The narrative on the Tamarack bothers me. USFS said it was not suppressed because it was evaluated as not being a threat. Nothing in the early narrative had to do with lack of resources. While there was national competition for resources, Great Basin GACC at that time was at PL3. The story that the fire wasn’t attacked due to resource problems only developed after it blew up.
    Call up any good mapping app and look at the fire start location. Then note the topography to the East: a down canyon perfect path towards Markleeville and points beyond.
    Then look at the prevailing wind and historical weather for that area at that time of year: westerly winds, thunderstorms, no chance of benign weather lasting long enough for this fire to skunk around and burn out before a wind event eventually comes along.
    Then look at a pre-fire aerial view of the vegetation: this wasn’t an isolated start in a granite field. Under anything less than ideal conditions, at that time of year, in the conditions we saw in 2021, it had plenty of chances to get away. Different year, different time of year, maybe a good call. But it was July 2021.
    It was not “easy access”. But it’s less than a mile from the Pacific Crest Trail.
    The best thing USFS could do was to say “dammit, we blew the call on this one. No excuse, it’s now part of training for the future, and we’ll do all we can to do it better the next time.”

  32. Yep Mac but Bro- “This is Who We Are”. USDA WO RO- Preach to us and ….Talk the talk but don’t walk the talk. Leadership is afraid to tell the truth because they will lose fire in the agency. Fire holds us together. And maybe because they are outta touch too. This big infrastructure bill money will not produce many new results in the USFS. The system is faulty and unable to support making it happen. Sad but true.

  33. Developed cancer after 17 years in fire with the FS, had a stem cell transplant and came back for more. I am not sure why I did, after learning that in all 50 states had I worked for literally any other AGENCY besides the Feds, my cancer, medical bills and lost time would have been covered under presumptive occupational disease. But here I am, back to back to working an annual 1,000 hours of OT trying to make ends meet.
    How can an agency increase the number of employees when they can’t even fill the empty positions now?

    And how does the FS not know how much money we spend for other agencies to come work on our fires!? I am just a time recorder and I know how to run a cost analysis. Most these portal to portal folks work a solid 12 hours a day and get paid 24. We have to do a solid 16.5 to claim 16. And the FS just plays dumb. Acting clueless to why we can’t recruit and retain people. Acting like we are going to hire an additional 1,200 people. LMFAO!!!! Yeah right!

  34. 500 NEPA projects in a month? There are no words for how outlandish that claim is. What is your definition of a NEPA project? EIS, EA, CE, or FONSI?
    April has 21 business days. That’s 23.8 NEPA projects a day. That’s 2.9 NEPA projects every hour. That’s total B.S.

  35. Huh? Yes, I did 500 in 1 month (e.g. FONSIs, EISs, BEs, BAs, and EAs). I worked for the Army and they make NEPA a priority. They have streamlined the NEPA process. Yes, I averaged 20 to 25 a day. I know it sounds insane, but when you have a team of people working together it’s very doable. Oh, and we had a 10 day turn around that was tied to our appraisal. So, yeah, you had to get it done!!!

    The problem is that NPS/FS has not made NEPA a priority. They don’t have enough people to do it. And to be honest, some of the people doing it…that’s their second job. It’s not a priority. Trust me, I use to train these guys. They wasted a lot of valuable time, because some didn’t know what to do and some didn’t want to do it. (Love you guys…and I totally understand!!!)

    The FS has spent most of their time trying to figure ways around ESA and NEPA. That was very apparent in the hearing. When I worked for the FS we were working on a process to streamline the process, but the powers that be did not want to make it faster. I wish I could go into more details about how we were going to streamline it, but I don’t work for the FS and I don’t feel like they should benefit from my hard work unless they want to reinstate me and pay me for my time.

  36. “You deliberately sat on it,” Rep. McClintock said. “Can you assure me that henceforth upon discovery of a fire you will order an aggressive initial attack?”

    “Yes, Congressman, that is what we do,” said Hall-Rivera.

    This is the exchange that prompted my previous comment. It sends the wrong message because it bleeds against safety by putting political pressure above safety and economics for that matter.

    My feelings about the Tamarack fire is in line with what Mac said. “Damn it we blew the call…”. I know how hard it is to manage WFU’s, PNF’s whatever the name is, in the Central Sierras. You’ve got to pick the right one. The right location, right time of the year, the right year and a host of other concerns. Lesson learned, oh yeah. But like we used to say, if managing WFU’s was easy… they’d call it Fire Suppression…

  37. Agreed on the fact that risk and logistics of suppressing fires in the mountains is different than flatter, roaded populated areas. They each have their own challenges. In the West, the arid climate, multiple lightning starts, and remote and steep terrain make it more challenging. I get that. I assume you are referring to my earlier post where I was not “bragging” but merely expressing what my observations are having worked IA and project fires in most of the Western states, Minnesota, and 2 Canadian Provinces. I find that the BLM and BIA are generally more aggressive and proactive in IA than the Forest Service where policy and bureaucracy inhibits timely initial attack. Our Federal government must realize that we need to invest more dollars to pay firefighters good living wages and benefits and structure a career ladder that allows skilled and experienced FF to contribute in their later years. In my opinion, more dollars need to be budgeted for a larger aerial suppression aircraft fleet to support safe and aggressive initial attack wherever life and property values can be threatened. Not to mention the smoky summer skies over most of the western 2/3 of the country that needs to be mitigated.

  38. Has Hall-Rivera ever held a fire line tool? NOPE. Last testimony said never a Wildland firefighter. But trying I guess. OMG. This is the Forest Service Fire leadership. No wonder we are are wreck. Can’t wait until I get a new job.

  39. What happened to the infrastructure bill money earmarked for pay raises? If I’m not mistaken, there was supposed to be a “draft plan” by now. This isn’t the time for the GS-amazings in DC, who obviously don’t understand the recruitment/retention issue to begin with, to play around with “working groups” and committees. From my vantage point, I’ve been hearing a lot of GS-4/5s say something to the effect of “I’m giving it one more season and, if nothing changes, I’m out.”

    I hate to be a pessimist but the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior and I’m afraid we’re going to hear more talk and no action.

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