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Westerman Leads Inquiry Into USFS Wildland Firefighter Shortage

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 19, 2022 -

Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding recent reports that the U.S. Forest Service has not met its staffing goals for wildland firefighters ahead of the upcoming wildfire season. In part, he wrote:

"As the country braces for another challenging wildfire season, it is more important than ever that our federal wildland firefighting workforce is fully staffed and prepared to suppress catastrophic wildfires, primarily across the West. Decades of fire suppression and mismanagement, along with drought and warming temperatures, have turned wildfire seasons into wildfire years. These conditions have exacerbated numerous issues related to hiring and retaining a full wildland firefighting workforce, such as fair pay, adequate health and retirement benefits, and proper job titles. Given the severity of this crisis, it is also imperative that the agencies are transparent about recruitment and retention shortcomings so Congress can provide the agencies with the tools they need to fight and prevent catastrophic fires.

"Recent reports have illuminated alarming and 'grim' shortfalls with the recruitment and retention of federal wildland firefighters, particularly in the West, despite assurances by the Forest Service that 2022 staffing goals will be met. As of May 16, 2022, fires have already consumed nearly 1.3 million acres of land and yet the Forest Service has only filled an estimated 73 percent of its firefighting staffing needs. Earlier this spring, Forest Service officials in California warned there were 50 percent fewer applications for GS-3 through GS-9 firefighter positions this year compared to last year. There are also more than 1,560 firefighter vacancies in California and some northern California units are expected to only be 50 percent staffed. This problem is not unique to California, as Forest Service Chief Randy Moore recently stated that many units have only reached 50 percent of their staffing goal and 'there’s a lot of declinations' of offers from potential wildland firefighters. In addition to recruitment shortcomings, the Forest Service is also failing to retain existing firefighters. Several recent reports have found that 240 former seasonal workers did not return in Montana and Idaho for this year’s fire season and that there were roughly 350 resignations in California.

"These shortcomings in the wildland firefighting workforce are particularly foreboding, as the nearly 1.4 million acres currently burned as of May 17, 2022, is over two times greater than the acreage burned the same time last year and nearly four times greater than the record-shattering 2020 wildfire season. Failing to adequately staff our wildland firefighting workforce will have detrimental and cascading effects on effectively fighting wildland fires and the health and safety of wildland firefighters."

Read the full letter here.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-225-2761

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