Retention and Worker Shortage Becoming a Major Problem for US Forest Service

by Matthew Memrick
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Finding US Forestry Service employees and keeping them is becoming a major problem these days.

Wildfire Today article from May details this important yet demanding job in our nation’s time of need.

Think fast-food restaurants and retailers are the only ones suffering from a labor shortage? Try the jobs where guys walk around sweaty all day from fighting fires.

Good Men Hard To Find

The article said that, according to one senior-level US Forestry Service official, there were hundreds of vacant permanent firefighting positions in California alone.

California fire officials said this year was another tough one. The agency said 7,883 fires across the state have burned 2,487,887 acres of land this year, as of Oct. 6.

Further, the US Forestry Service’s difficulties recruiting and hiring seasonal and permanent firefighters have hurt multiple hotshot crews. The agency had a tough time getting 18 workers to fight a fire on a few occasions. 

The article also goes on to mention understaffed fire engines and other key positions in California.

Why the Shortages?

Wildfire Today gathered two factors in the deficits. One was hiring and the other being experienced firefighters leaving for better pay and working conditions.

The seasonal hiring process can be a heavy issue. Consequently, January federal hires are made to wait until mid-May or mid-June to see any work.

Some US Forestry Service Numbers From May

Conversely, a quick look at permanent firefighting vacancies based on a USA Jobs search is disheartening. The website posts US Forestry Service and other government jobs nationwide. 

In five important posts, there were 220 jobs available. Those jobs included: Supervisory Forestry Technician (Fire), Supervisory Forestry Technician (Interagency Hotshot Crew Superintendent), Forestry Technician (hand crew), Fire Prevention Officer and Forestry Technician (Dispatch).

A quick look at the entry-level Forestry Technician job shows a $13.32 per hour wage whereas California’s minimum wage increases to $15 per hour in 2022.

Reportedly, many federal firefighters are moving to California Department of Forestry and Fire Suppression jobs or local municipal fire departments.

The federal agencies lose valuable workers who have the skills to serve on Incident Management Teams in cases of where large wildfires and other incidents happen. 

More Days on Alert For US Forestry Service

On Sept. 29, US Forest Service chief Randy Moore told a House subcommittee that his agency about the 2021 summer.

First, Moore’s agency spent more consecutive days on the high alert for wildfires than any other year

Moore also told lawmakers that the loss of US Forestry Service workforce hurts his agency hard.

38 percent of its non-fire workforce is gone. Conversely, over 20 years, those losses hurt the agency’s ability to manage forests for fire prevention and massive fire control. 

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