Recalling Forest Service Chief’s visit to the number one ranked Job Corps Center

In light of the announcement to transfer  the management of  25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the U.S. Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and to permanently close 9 of those 25 centers, it is interesting to look back on a story written and published by the Forest Service nine months ago about then Interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen’s visit to “the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide.” She was later confirmed as Chief of the Forest Service.

The text and photos below are from the Forest Service article posted at www.fs.fed.us:


Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, Schenck Job Corps celebrate number one ranking

Schenck Job Corps Center Chief Christiansen
From left, Forests of North Carolina Forest Supervisor Allen Nicholas, USDA Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, Southern Research Station Director Rob Doudrick, and Southern Region Acting Regional Forester Ken Arney preserve the memory of their visit by posing alongside the Schenck Job Corps sign. USDA Forest Service photo by Marvin Ramsey.

NORTH CAROLINA – “Look for the fire that burns within you and gives you the juice. You are capable of doing anything you put your mind to.” USDA Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen offered these words of advice to the students at Schenck Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, located on the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.

Christiansen journeyed to Schenck Job Corps Center on September 26, 2018, to congratulate the students and staff on the center’s remarkable Program Year 2017 performance. The center’s program year ended on June 30, 2018 and resulted in it being ranked as the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide. Not only did Schenck achieve the number one overall ranking, it also ranked number one in graduate job placement.

Having also been recognized as the number one center in 2014, this is a repeat performance for Schenck within a span of five years. Job Corps Centers are evaluated on weighted measures and performance goals that include credential and high school diploma attainment, job placement and wages.

Along with Schenck, eleven other Forest Service Job Corps Centers–Flatwoods, Trapper Creek, Frenchburg, Blackwell, Centennial, Curlew, Wolf Creek, Weber Basin, Anaconda, Pine Knot and Lyndon B. Johnson–finished in the top 50 of the 123 Job Corps Centers.

“Having the Chief here is really cool,” said Rosalyn Velasquez, a member of Schenck’s Advanced Fire Management Program and its associated Davidson River Initial Attack Crew. The DVR has built a stellar reputation with its 100% graduation rate and consistent graduate job placement into career positions with the Forest Service and other public lands management agencies. The DVR students were impressed that, like them, Christiansen began her career as a wildland firefighter and has now risen to the heights of her current position.

Christiansen was enthusiastic about the value Civilian Conservation Centers bring to the Forest Service. In PY17 alone, Job Corps students contributed 42,912 hours to national forests and grasslands project work. These hours equate to a dollar contribution of $1,059,497. Additionally, Job Corps students have contributed approximately 460,000 hours to wildland fire support and 5,000 hours to hurricane support.

Schenck Job Corps Center Chief Christiansen
Having begun her career as a wildland firefighter and state forester, Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, recalls her classes studying fire behavior with members of the Davidson River Initial Attack Crew. USDA Forest Service photo by Marvin Ramsey.

Christiansen offered wise advice to the students on how to approach a job as they begin their careers. “Good leaders first learned to be good followers,” she stated before sharing this fable. “One day a traveler came upon three bricklayers and inquired what are you doing? The first one replied ‘laying these brick,’ the second one replied ‘working as a member of this team’, while the third replied ‘I’m part of this team that is building this grand cathedral.’” Christiansen ended by saying, “The moral of the fable of ‘The Three Bricklayers’ is that we all have our roles.”

Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers changes lives one student at a time by equipping them with valuable skills to help them find jobs and support the nation’s economy. Along with supporting the Forest Service national priority of promoting shared stewardship, Civilian Conservation Centers also provide critical support to their local communities and, in PY17, volunteered 60,274 hours to community projects, equating to a dollar contribution of $1,488,156.

Schenck Job Corps Center Chief Christiansen
From left, Davidson River Initial Attack Crew enjoy a picture with Forest Service leaders. Southern Research Station Director Rob Doudrick, Southern Region Acting Regional Forester Ken Arney, USDA Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, Schenck Job Corps Davidson River Initial Attack Crew members David Williams, Joseph Mousseaux, Austin Griffin, Cortney Brown, Christopher Sanchez, Osman Guzman-Reyes, Abdusalam Ibrahim, Joseph Woods, Richard Alidon, Trevon Lindsay, Dylan Hobbs, Lerron Dugars, Trey Brandenburg, Walter Moore, Shavonte Crosby, Taj Pham, Richard Bostic, Rosalyn Velasquez, Patrique Hall, Samuel Leach, Schenck Job Corps Works Program Officer Kenneth Barton, Job Corps National Office Acting Assistant Director Jimmy Copeland, and National Forests of North Carolina Forest Supervisor Allen Nicholas. USDA Forest Service photo by Marvin Ramsey.

Forest Service Chief issues Letter of Intent for Wildland Fire

Among other directives, it urges Forest Service firefighting personnel to use “the best science available” when making decisions.

DC-10 Indian Fire air tanker
Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, drops retardant on the north side of the Indian Canyon Fire at 7:18 p.m. MDT July 17, 2016. The objective was for the retardant to serve as a contingency fire line to help protect the town of Edgemont.

The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Victoria Christiansen, has issued a Letter of Intent for Wildland Fire for 2019. The “intent” is probably derived from the principle of “leader’s intent” which should be included in a briefing for a fast-moving, dynamic situation so that subordinates can adapt plans and exercise initiative to accomplish the objective when unanticipated opportunities arise or when the original plan no longer suffices.

This is at least the third annual Intent letter and this year’s version is much more specific than last year’s missive. Chief Christiansen’s 2018 letter talked about safety, “protect the people and communities we serve”, the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, the fire funding fix that takes effect in FY 2020, and a few miscellaneous topics.

The letter dated April 11, 2019 hits on most of those but in a more specific way. It is like the difference between Smokey Bear saying “Prevent Forest Fires”, and “Douse your campfire with water, stir it, and douse it again.”

Vicki ChristiansenDuring the last two years the Forest Service has been accused of not doing enough to create a workplace free of harassment. In the hearing on April 9 before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee six minutes was spent on this subject. In the April 11 letter, 78 words are devoted to the issue.

The Chief’s letter implores Forest Service personnel to use “the best science available” when making decisions. It also urges them to implement Administration policies such as “engage early with our partners and communities” before fires start, “use active management that focuses on wildfire risk reduction, forest products and restoration”, and “use wildland fire to achieve desired ecological conditions”.

Below are excerpts from the Chief’s 2019 Letter of Intent for Wildland Fire:


“…As I look ahead to the remainder of the 2019 fire year, it is more important than ever we remain grounded in our core values of safety, diversity, conservation, interdependence and service, while we foster a safe, respectful workplace where everyone is valued for their contributions. Everything we do—every part of our mission—depends on creating a workplace where each one of us is able to thrive in our work, free from harassment and safe from harm.

“For wildfire response, let me be clear: that we will continue to implement incident response strategies and tactics that commit responders to operations where and when we understand the risks responders may face and where they can be most successful. We will deploy our people under conditions where we protect important values at risk. These decisions will be based on risk-informed trade-off considerations, looking at all available tactics and opportunities, while maintaining relationships with the communities we serve. Each of us must remain committed to “stop, think and talk” before “acting”.

[…]

“With this in mind, I issue this direction to ALL employees. Each of you has a role to play in carrying out our key agency priorities of reducing wildfire risk and improving forest conditions. As you continue to focus on work that delivers successes in these priority areas in 2019, these principals apply:

  • We will maintain our commitment to improve the wildland fire system to one that more reliably protects responders and the public, sustains communities and conserves the land.
  • We will be responsible for ensuring sound, risk informed decision making that takes into account the best science available and most appropriate use of the right tools at the right time.
  • We will engage early with our partners and communities to strengthen relationships even where priorities may differ, to ensure we are sharing risk before fires start, to work towards achieving our shared goals and missions.
  • We will use active management that focuses on wildfire risk reduction, forest products and restoration, engaging in cross-boundary collaboration to set landscape-scale treatment priorities with our partners.
  • We will also use wildland fire to achieve desired ecological conditions where possible and where it makes sense, setting that intention together with our partners.”

(end of excerpt)


Our opinion:

As Chief Christiansen has pointed out in this new letter and other venues, she wants firefighters to “engage fires where they can be most successful.” Left unsaid is the fact that a warming climate has resulted in a longer fire season and more acres burned while the constant dollars allocated for wildland fire management decrease. Even though the USFS fire budget remains about the same, the agency has been told to expect an overall five percent reduction next fiscal year. Inflation takes a toll, wages increase, air tankers are more expensive, firefighting equipment costs more, and the flat budget for fire does not go as far. Finding help on large fires from the “militia”, non-fire agency employees who help when and if they are available, becomes more of a challenge. So, as we have seen in recent years, too often initial attacks or extended attacks fail — more fires become megafires.

And the list of fires where firefighters can’t be successful grows. Local residents look at the smoke column and ask, “Where are the firefighters?”

As one of our readers, Michael T. Rains, recently wrote in a comment:

After 30 years of striving to do more with less … it just may be time to seek another solution.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Vicki Christiansen to be Chief of the U.S. Forest Service

Victoria Christiansen forest service
Victoria Christiansen speaks at the Fire Continuum Conference in Missoula May 21, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced October 10 that Vicki Christiansen will serve as the 19th Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Ms. Christiansen has been serving as Interim Chief since March of this year when Tony Tooke resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct were aired on the PBS program NewsHour.

On October 11 Secretary Perdue will swear her in as Chief in the Sidney Yates Building in Washington, D.C. at 9:45 a.m. ET.

Ms. Christiansen has experience in wildland fire suppression. After obtaining a degree in forestry at the University of Washington in 1983 she accrued firefighting experience with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. There is one report that she was qualified to use fireline explosives. Thirteen years after graduating she was the Washington State Forester. Between 2006 and 2012 she served in five different positions with the Washington DNR, Arizona Division of Forestry, and the U.S. Forest Service. Her last job before becoming interim USFS Chief was Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry with the USFS.


(UPDATE October 12, 2018)

How will the Forest Service change to deal with the “fire year”?

The USFS says we no longer have “fire seasons”. They are now “fire years”.

Victoria Christiansen forest service
Victoria Christiansen

In addition to asking the interim Chief of the Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, why the agency cut the number of large air tankers on exclusive use contracts by 35 percent, we also asked her what changes the agency is making now that they say longer “fire seasons” have become “fire years” due to climate change.

Question: Since the Forest Service is now using the term “Fire Year” rather than “Fire Season”, will a large number of seasonal firefighters be converted to work year round?

“An effective response to the more severe fire seasons we have experienced for the past few years requires strong cooperation between federal agencies, states and tribal organizations. No one organization can do it alone. With these strong partnerships, we are prepared for what we expect to be another active fire season.  The Forest Service, along with assistance and cooperation with our federal, tribal, state, and local partners and volunteers, is well prepared to respond to wildfires in 2018. This year, the agency has more than 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines, and hundreds of aircraft available to manage wildfires in cooperation with federal, tribal, state, local, and volunteer partners. At this time, there is no national direction to change seasonal tours.”

Question: How will the Forest Service change to deal with the “Fire Year” — the longer fire season?

“Early indicators are predicting that 2018 will be another active fire year. The USDA Forest Service is committed to ensuring adequate assets are available for a safe and effective wildfire response. In preparation for the existing and potential wildfire activity, preparations continue to ensure a robust workforce of firefighters, engines and aviators will be available for nationwide wildfire response throughout the fire year. Assets will continue to be moved around the nation as activity shifts from one geographical area to another throughout the fire year. We continue to do what we have for each and every season, and that is to prepare, plan for, and respond to wildfires throughout the fire year, while supporting our federal, state, local and tribal partners and cooperators.”

Question: On another topic, what are your thoughts about salvage logging after a fire vs. allowing nature to take its course in a burned area? Will we be seeing more salvage logging?

“Salvage logging of dead and dying timber after a fire or other disaster is one way to capture the value of the damaged timber. This timber provides much needed products to the American public. Salvaging the timber can also reduce the fuel loading after harvest creates “slash.”  Otherwise, over time, these trees could potentially fuel future fires.  The value of the trees harvested can be used to treat the burned area. This treatment may include various restoration projects, including planting trees, shrubs and grasses for wildlife and domestic grazing, and watershed restoration projects such as brush dams to reduce sediment flow.  In many instances, there is not a seed source left after an intensive burn to allow an area to return to desired vegetation state naturally. Planting allows an area to return to this desired vegetation state in a much shorter time.  Typically only about 20-30 % of the burned area is salvage logged, depending on the intensity of the burn.  The rest of the area may not be logged because of nearness to perennial streams, soil stability concerns, or that very few of the trees were damaged in the fire.  When evaluating the total burn area, the concern over a lack of snags becomes less problematic.  Unless forests are treated to reduce the number of stems and the resultant fuels, future fires will continue to create problems.

“In many of our market areas there is a need to maintain at least a portion of the green timber sale program as the mills are designed for certain tree species or certain products.  These mills cannot afford to reconfigure the mill for some of the products that come from salvage material. In addition some defects like blue stain in pines does effect the structural integrity of the product. However, many Americans do not like the looks of this defect. Fortunately, some of this lumber can be used in Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) where this feature is covered up.”

Fire Continuum Conference begins at Missoula

Above: Vicki Christiansen, interim Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, addresses the participants at the Fire Continuum conference in Missoula, May 21, 2018.

A fire conference with an unusual name began Monday in Missoula. The “Fire Continuum Conference” is organized by the International Association of Wildland Fire and the Association for Fire Ecology with a theme of preparing for the future of wildland fire. It has drawn 655 participants from approximately 20 countries who are faced this week with the difficult task of choosing from 400 workshops, presentations, and field trips.fire continuum conference missoula

It kicked off Monday with a keynote address by Vicki Christiansen, the interim Chief of the U.S. Forest Service who talked about four “gnarly challenges”– drought, fuel buildup, growth in the wildland-urban interface, and fire exclusion compounded by climate change. It is not often that we hear someone from the present administration talk about climate change.

Ms. Christiansen said that since 1910 there have been more than 1,000 deaths on wildland fires and the fatality rate is rising, with almost a quarter of those, 255, having occurred in the last 15 years. According to the U.S Fire Administration, wildland firefighters, she said, “are killed at a rate six times higher than structural firefighters”.

She also refuted the “narrative that has formed for some that the Forest Service firefighting is not aggressive enough”. She said “We will commit firefighters only under conditions where they can actually have a chance of succeeding in protecting important values at risk”.

The conference wraps up Thursday. We will have a number of articles on Wildfire Today and Fire Aviation about the happenings in Missoula.

The video below is just to give you a quick look to see which organizations were exhibiting at the no host social event, the first night at the Fire Continuum Conference, May 21, 2018.

Below are photos of other speakers at the conference .

Alen Slijepcevic, President, International Association of Wildland Fire
Alen Slijepcevic, President, International Association of Wildland Fire
Chris Dicus, President, Association for Fire Ecology
Chris Dicus, President, Association for Fire Ecology
Mark Finney
Mark Finney, Research Forester, USDA Forest Service, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory
Tom Zimmerm
Tom Zimmerman, immediate past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire
Dave Calkin
Dave Calkin, Research Forester, Human Dimensions Program, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

fire continuum conference missoula

Forest Service Chief testifies about cutback in air tankers

In 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. This year there are 13.

(This article first appeared at Fire Aviation)

In a hearing Tuesday morning about the Forest Service budget for FY 2019 before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senators asked the interim Chief of the Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, about the reduction in the number of large air tankers on exclusive use contracts and the agency’s plans to rely on call when needed aircraft to fill the void.

Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief Forest Service
Ms. Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief, U.S. Forest Service, testifies April 24, 2018.

Lisa Murkowski (AK), Chair of the committee,  mentioned the issue during her opening remarks. Senators Maria Cantwell (WA) and Cory Gardner (CO) asked questions about what could be a shortage of air tankers, with most of the discussion centering around call when needed vendors. The Senators appeared to be concerned about the higher daily and hourly costs of CWN aircraft, and referred to the 48-hour time frame for them to mobilize after notification.

air tankers contract exclusive use 2000-2018

Ms. Christiansen tried two or three times to explain how activating CWN air tankers works and how the USFS makes decisions about when to bring them on board. Her descriptions were rambling as she talked about predictive services, but it was a little too ambiguous for some of the senators who asked for clarification.

Senator Gardner mentioned that this year there are 13 exclusive use large air tankers compared to 20 last year, and talked about how call when needed aircraft are more expensive than exclusive use aircraft. He said, “What is the rationale for that again?”

Ms. Christiansen: “Senator, we really look hard and do our analysis on the right balance between the exclusive use which is for an extended period of time and the call when needed. We take this very seriously and we will evaluate each year and adjust for the balance of these contracts. These next generation aircraft are more expensive than the legacy aircraft we had operated for the last two decades. So we have to be fiscally prudent and responsible in finding that right balance. We are confident that we have the aircraft we need when we need it through the combination of exclusive use, the call when needed, the military MAFFS, and then when we can call our partners down from Alaska and Canada.”

Senator Gardner continued: “Do you think you’re providing industry with enough certainty, private industry with enough certainty, to replace some of the contracts in the past that were coming out of the Forest Service in terms of the air tankers that were in use since the 2014 passage of the Defense Authorization Act?”

Ms. Christiansen: “Senator Gardner we are doing everything we can to be a good partner with the industry and exercise our fiscal responsibility.”

No one acknowledged the elephant in the room, the reason there are fewer air tankers. The budget that Congress approved and the President signed forced the reduction. Ms. Christiansen, a member of the administration, apparently feels that she has to be a good soldier and say, everything is fine, there’s nothing to see here: “We are confident that we have the aircraft we need”.

And the Senators don’t want to admit that they approved legislation which caused the number of EU air tankers to be cut by one-third. So they asked mild-mannered questions and didn’t follow up when the administration’s representative insisted that everything is going to be OK.

During a discussion about budget reductions on a different issue, Senator Joseph Manchin (WV) said, “Have you been able to push back on the administration, saying you can’t cut me this deep, I can’t do my job?”

Ms. Christiansen: “Senator, we have prioritized what we can do within these constraints…”

Senator Manchin: There’s a lot of us that will go out and …..”

Ms. Christiansen: “Our priority is on the National Forests, but I look forward to working with you on additional priorities.”

Meanwhile, John Hoven, the Senator from North Dakota, spent most of his allotted time presenting what was basically an infomercial about his state.

A recorded video of the hearing will be available at the committee’s website.