Semper Fi!


Foresters used to lead the Forest Service’s war against wildfire. No longer. Believing it to be losing the battle, the Forest Service has turned to the real military to lead its troops into combat. Fire and Aviation Deputy Director Bob Baird has a military record that would engender pride in any veteran: Branch Head, Center For Irregular Warfare at United States Marine Corps, Deputy, 1st Marine Division G-3 Operations at US Marine Corps, Chief of Plans, I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). A graduate of the Marine Corps University and Navy War College, Baird may know little nothing about fire ecology, but I’ll bet he knows how to take the fight to the enemy.

Aviation Management Assistant Director Art Hinaman is an Army War College graduate with a Masters in Strategic Studies and 28 years as an Army aviator, including Air Cavalry, Attack Helicopter, Assault Helicopter, and Air Ambulance service.

Aviation Strategic Planner Ezequiel Parrilla has an impressive resume as a B1 and B-52 pilot including service in Iraq and security assistance to the Colombian Ministry of Defense, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines (those skills could come in useful in northern California!).

These men are a part of a military hiring binge the Forest Service initiated a couple of years ago to surge its war against wildfire.

How’s that working?

14 thoughts on “Semper Fi!”

  1. Are we talking about the USFS that had under a dozen operable air tankers last year? Evidently civilian USFS leadership was close to not having an air response. Is this a “surge” or maybe Dutch Boy fingers into a plethora of very leaky dikes? The US Govt has spent a trillion or more dollars, a year, since 2008, more than their revenues. $85 Billion or more a month having to be borrowed to pay bills. US Govt borrowing since 2008 is more than ALL the borrowing from the Revolutionary War until the day Bush II stepped down having served his second term. The USFS fire budget was not the cause. And yet the fire reality has yet to hit home in Congress. Semper Paratus!

    We don’t know the total cost, annually, of wildland fire on the public estate. The only tool we have to estimate the losses are the civil settlements the US Justice Dept. has wrought from private landowner ignition source fires that burned Federal Lands. The last big one was from Sierra Pacific, the lumber company successor to the former Southern Pacific railroad lands in California. The Moonlight Fire. AG Holder, et al, were after over $750,000,000 in damages on a less than 60,000 acre fire. If that were a fair appraisal by the Feds, all you have to do is extrapolate that number to the number of acres burned across the Public Estate and that number would be the immediate asset losses according to US Justice Dept appraisers. The settlement was far less, however, with Sierra Pacific paying under $60,000,000 in cash and the was deeding a little more than 22,000 acres of SPI land to the USDFS, that was not accessible to logging due to USFS wilderness issues, and other “locked out” circumstances. But they were able to use the US Govt land appraisal numbers to value what was in a sense, valueless land. A “for profit” company, SPI had only costs, and no possible revenue from those lands. So from how on, private land owners can use the US Justice Dept land appraisal process and values to estimate loss, and to value lands the US Govt might want to take.

    Other than that very recent development, the USFS has no numbers for loss in wildfire except the “cost” of fighting and holding fire until winter weather puts them out, which is mostly covered by a congressional budget line item. No asset loss is measured or accounted for by the USFS. Only their “cost”, which if you have spent much time on a fire, you know that a lot of that cost is using the fire excuse and the cost plus budget to grade roads, clean culverts, burn interior fences, upgrade ranger station facilities and reload the equipment and supplies warehouse. With penny wise and pound foolish congressional and administration budgets, necessity (fire) is the font of needed improvements locally. The “cost” to the private burned area, in terms of lost opportunity, bad air and health issues, loss of assets and investments, is realized on tax returns by means of deductions, or for insurance purposes.

    The good deal is that by going after civil damages for a fire started by a train or track repairs, a tree falling over a power line, or one of uncertain origin but there was a logger working somewhat near the ignition source so go after some small business with the full force of the US Justice Dept for civil damages (which tort law limits at $250,000 if the Feds burn you out by their negligence) means that the Justice Dept has to come up with dollar numbers for loss. They actually can give value to timber in a designated Wilderness, where no logging is ever allowed, where it is assumed dead trees are habitat and have value. Their most creative value is “loss of grandeur of the landscape.” I wonder if the expert witness is a curator of an art museum, using gross auction value for say, an Ansel Adams photo original plate, to ascertain value for “grandeur of the landscape?”

    So, I hope that bringing in a very organized, logistically experienced, operations experienced, aerial fire fighting management team will slow the “loss of grandeur of the landscape.” Or at the least, be a part of the process to gain appraisers who can balance “loss of grandeur of the landscape” with the creation of black backed woodpecker core habitats, and put a dollar value on both. Then add climate change experts to put global climate change cost figures and dollar value to the fire plume and emissions in terms of world wide impacts. Perhaps soil scientists can find a cost for loss of critical germ layer organic material and nutrients, buried seed banks, along with mineral soil loss to the fire plume, to storm water runoff and snow melt runoff, until revegetation once again slows those processes. We might find that the cost to fight fires, albeit great, is far less than the costs decades of damages incur before full recovery can be achieved.

  2. Andy, I’m not concerned about the FS hiring more military people. I think it’s great to give jobs to folks who have served our country. I am a bit concerned, though, that if you just look at the ratios of people in the military you will find that fewer are female. So I would be concerned that without a balance, hiring such folks might make the fire biz more female-unfriendly. At the same time, many are thinking of requiring FS employees to go on fires.

    Now certainly the military has opened in different ways to more females, but the ratios are what they are.. if that’s where you go looking, chances are guys are what you are going to find. And if we really believe in all kinds of diversity… there is a risk, not intentional but simply mathematical.

    • Women in Forest Service leadership positions who know nothing about natural resources or public land management are preferable to men who know nothing about natural resources or public land management? Curious perspective.

      • Seems there are many complaints about the Forest Service these days. It seems like these days there are more women in leadership postions in the Forest Service than men. Is there a correlation? (Sorry, just poking the fire.)

      • Boy, I must have been totally unclear.. not unusual!

        What I meant to say was that a potential unintended consequence of hiring people with military experience preferentially is that (just based on the percentages of military air veterans) the percentage of females in FS leadership could be reduced.. if fire is the tail that wags the dog (because they have all the money and hire all the people), and the tail is mostly male..

        I wasn’t addressing the question of whether any particular individual is the best candidate for any particular job. I’d have to look at the job. does that make sense?

        • This is not any veteran’s preference hiring policy at work. They’re not just getting extra points because of being vets. These folks are hired because of their military experience.

          It is the military training and combat experience that the Forest Service is seeking out. The FS isn’t interested in these employees’ ecology, forestry, wildlife, recreation, public agency administration (unless you count commanding a combat brigade), or other natural resource education, training or skills. They have none. What they know, what they’ve been schooled in, and what they’ve done their whole careers, is wage war.

          The fact that they didn’t win any of the wars is an added bonus. The FS war against fire is also unwinnable. So don’t hire the warrior who has come to realize that all that killing and all that money spent didn’t really accomplish anything, in fact, probably just made the situation worse. Hire the warrior who likes to wage war for the sake of waging war.

  3. Andy, are these the positions that do a lot of decision-making about fire ecology, or on-the-ground fire management? Because they all have a title of aviation-something-or-other… I think if I was going up in an airplane, or my life depended on the folks in the airplanes being where they needed to be and at the right time, I guess I’d rather have someone in charge with hardcore aviation experience, rather than a fire ecologist. It’s like, you don’t want a social worker on the SWAT team. Though I’d hope there would be people who understand fire ecology in equally high positions, making the decisions that require knowledge of fire ecology and behavior. I know, pie in the sky, so let’s also have a good gender and other diversity mix while we’re at it.

    • Oh God, don’t bother listening to me, what do I know? Just read this:

      There. Now you’ve heard it from a real, live fire guy. A guy who lives and breathes firefighting. Feel better?

      Btw, now we’ve got a guy in charge who thinks that al Qaeda is a big wildfire threat on our national forests. Jeez. I couldn’t make this s___ up.

      • well ok, you should have posted that first 🙂 Plus, nobody had mentioned they’re planning to put him in my home state of Idaho, that’s a little more disconcerting. But the real dealbreaker for me might be his master’s degree from “Marine Corps University” 😮

  4. Guy . . . what does this mean: “[if] my life depended on the folks in the airplanes being where they needed to be and at the right time . . .” If your life as a firefighter depends upon airplanes being where they need to be at the right time, then you have violated just about every safety order & watchout situation that exists. Airplanes don’t save lives. Airplanes don’t put out fires.

  5. no problem, fire merit badge isn’t on my horizon. I have earned other ones, but try not to condescend to those who maybe haven’t. I did read the following in my link, but if as you say it’s unrelated to firefighter safety, my bad: “The pilots of these planes can also relay important weather information to firefighters, as well as potential dangerous fire behavior.” Like you said, it’s late, and I have a brief to write.


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