For Throwback Thursday, an issue that was a serious problem in 2008 has gotten much worse since we published this article on Wildfire Today February 14, 2008.
The Associated Press is picking up on the pay and retention issues the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies are facing in California. The USFS is losing a great many experienced firefighters to CalFire and other fire departments in the state who pay much higher salaries than the federal agencies.
From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
“WASHINGTON – A top federal official acknowledged Tuesday that the U.S. Forest Service is losing federal firefighters in California to state and county departments that pay more.
But Agriculture Department Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, told concerned lawmakers he’s still evaluating how much of a problem that is. “On the one hand you hate to lose trained people. On the other hand they’re still fighting fires under a unified command system,” Rey told a hearing of the House Appropriations Interior subcommittee. “They’re going to be on the fire line along with the federal firefighters.”
Lawmakers convinced there is a problem ordered the Forest Service to come up with a plan by Feb. 1 to increase recruitment and retention for Southern California forests. That deadline has passed but the agency is working on it, officials said.”
The U.S. Forest Service is advertising for the purchase of at least one new aircraft that will be used as an air tanker. A solicitation issued November 18, 2016 indicates that the agency intends to buy between one and seven “new production commercial aircraft to operate primarily as airtankers”. This procurement would spend the $65 million appropriated by Congress in December, 2014 “for the purpose of acquiring aircraft for the next-generation airtanker fleet to enhance firefighting mobility, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety…”.
As far as we know this will be the first time, in recent decades anyway, that a U.S. land management agency has purchased a NEW air tanker.
The seven HC-130H’s that the USFS is acquiring from the Coast Guard will be operated and maintained by contractors after they are converted to air tankers.
Coulson operates two C-130 type aircraft as air tankers, a C-130Q and an L-100-30 (382G), with the latter being an earlier demilitarized stretched variant of the C-130. As this is written they are both working on firefighting contracts in Australia during their summer bushfire season.
There is speculation that the $65 million appropriation was targeted to buy a new variant of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J, the LM-100J, a demilitarized version of the C-130J.
In Fiscal Year 2015 the Defense Department paid $88.9 million for each C-130J. The stripped down LM-130J is expected to sell for about $65 million. Lockheed is planning test flights of the new aircraft in the first half of 2017 with deliveries beginning the following year. Portions of the plane are being made in Marietta, Georgia; Meridian, Mississippi; Clarksburg, West Virginia; and India.
After the appropriations bill passed in 2014, Jason Gagnon, a spokesperson for Representative Ken Calvert of California, said that Representative Calvert, who is Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, advocated for the inclusion of the provision. The final negotiations were done by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky.
Mr. Gagnon said the funds will be spent to purchase air tankers, “a C-130 to be specific”. Representative Calvert, Mr. Gagnon said,
…supports the expansion of the airtanker fleet since there is a significant need… This provision is just a step in that direction as more aircraft will be needed… While the Forest Service has been unable to get a request to purchase new aircraft for its fleet, there’s been support within the Forest Service to modernize its fleet by purchasing new aircraft rather than continuing to rely on older aircraft passed along by other federal agencies. This idea has been around for a few years now as the Service has struggled with the costs of maintaining an old fleet. Mr. Calvert made it a priority in the bill and got it across the finish line.
Some important specifications in the USFS solicitation match those of the LM-100J, including max normal takeoff weight, capable of operating from unimproved airfields, payload, cruise speed, multiple turbine engines, and a door that incorporates stairs.
Vendors can choose to equip the aircraft with two options:
A gravity powered retardant delivery system that would hold at least 3,000 gallons, and,
A pallet-based seating system for 40 passengers that can be installed or removed in less than 2 hours.
The Coulson company has the contract to install retardant delivery systems in the seven HC-130H aircraft the USFS is acquiring from the Coast Guard. It is likely those will be similar to the two systems already in use in Coulson’s two C-130 type aircraft.
Mark Rey who oversaw the Forest Service as the former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment, has been a lobbyist for Lockheed Martin since he left the federal government through that proverbial revolving door. The company hired him to lobby the federal government to buy the company’s “firefighting equipment”. Since 2009 Mr. Rey has been paid at least $522,000 by Lockheed Martin according to Open Secrets.
Tom Harbour, the former National Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service who retired at the end of last year has mentioned several times his affinity for the C-130 platform as an air tanker. In what we called his “exit interview”, he talked about it at 9:27 in the video, saying:
I like the 130-J and I told folks before and I’ll tell folks after, I like that 130J.
But he said he had no plans to work for Lockheed Martin after his retirement.
A lawsuit that forced the nation’s top forestry official to apologize in a Missoula courtroom is over. The lawsuit by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics was filed in 2003, and charged the U.S. Forest Service with violating federal law by indiscriminately dropping retardant on forest fires.
Two weeks ago that case reached a climax when Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey appeared before federal judge Donald Molloy, and faced a possible contempt of court citation.
Molloy was angry that the Forest Service missed deadlines for delivering environmental review documents to him, and for generally taking more time than he liked. Ultimately he decided not to find Rey or the Forest Service in contempt, but not before Rey and other agency officials apologized multiple times.
Now, the case is done. Molloy signed an order last Wednesday dismissing the lawsuit. The judge wrote that the Forest Service has complied with the procedures of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, and so there’s nothing left to decide.
The U.S. District Court Judge cleared Mark Rey of the contempt charges yesterday. From the Missoulian:
“U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey walked out of federal court a free man Wednesday in Missoula, wearing not an orange inmate’s jumpsuit but the gray business suit with American flag lapel pin he had donned for his contempt hearing.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy cleared Rey, the Bush administration’s top forest official, and the Forest Service of contempt and withdrew his threat to jail Rey or ground all fire retardant air tankers until the agency evaluated the environmental impact of the chemical slurry.
Molloy did not rule on the merits of the Forest Service’s environmental analysis, and the watchdog group whose lawsuit prompted the showdown said it planned to take new legal action to challenge the agency’s finding that aerial retardant causes little harm to fish and other aquatic creatures. “We accomplished what we wanted to do, which was to make the Forest Service follow the law,” said Andy Stahl, director of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, based in Eugene, Ore.
In his testimony, Rey apologized for the Forest Service’s tardiness in following the judge’s order to complete an environmental analysis of the potential harm from ammonium phosphate, the primary ingredient in retardant dropped on wildfires.”
Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey spent part of the day in court, but nothing is decided yet. The process will continue tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday). More information is on the Missoulian site.
“Faced with possible jail time, U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey on Tuesday repeatedly apologized to a federal judge in Missoula for the Forest Service’s delays in evaluating the environmental impacts of fire retardant.
But Rey, the Bush administration’s top forest official, insisted the agency has complied with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy is presiding over a watchdog group’s 2003 lawsuit that accuses the Forest Service of violating the nation’s top environmental laws in the agency’s use of fire retardant.The hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday afternoon.”