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News / Northwest

USDA outlines strategic priorites to reduce wildfire risk

Officials hope to employ 17K staff

By Columbia Basin Herald, Moses Lake
Published: June 4, 2024, 3:31pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Monday issued a joint memo to federal agency leaders with wildfire responsibilities outlining their vision and goals for managing wildland fires this year, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The memo outlines strategic priorities to reduce wildfire risk, restore ecosystems, engage in post-fire recovery, support the wildland fire workforce and make communities more resilient to fire, according to the announcement.

“Our wildland firefighters and employees who support forest health have proven time and time again that they can deliver on our efforts to confront the nation’s wildfire crisis,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Whether they are suppressing wildfires or reducing hazardous fuels to lower wildfire risk to communities, they are always there on the frontlines. We need Congress to act now to provide them with the permanent pay fix they need and deserve.”

The statement said the USDA and the Department of the Interior hope to employ more than 17,000 wildland fire personnel this year to support communities increasingly impacted by wildfires. The two departments are working together to increase support for wildland fire personnel, improve the ability to recruit and retain talented professionals, make the workforce sustainable into the future, and position the nation to address wildfires made worse by the growing climate crisis

Since 2021, almost 16,000 Forest Service and nearly 5,600 Interior Department wildland firefighters have received a total of more than $560 million in temporary pay supplements funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. However, the statement said the departments still lack a permanent solution to firefighter funding shortfalls. Without congressional action, firefighter base salaries will return to their previous levels — $15 per hour in some cases — in October 2024.

“As climate change continues to drive wildfires with increased speed and intensity, we are deploying historic resources from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to better protect communities and ecosystems around the country,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said. “We will continue to leverage our valuable partnerships with state, Tribal and local governments, and the private sector to address and mitigate wildfire risk, while also ensuring that our wildland fire personnel have the support and resources they need to stay safe and be prepared on the landscape.”

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.