More Pace and Scale and Wildland Firefighter Pay: Senate Hearing with Chris French

Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today has a great summary of a recent committee hearing .  Excerpt below.

Chris French recommended an increase in pay for firefighters and boosting fuel management projects by 200% to 400%management projects by 200% to 400%

Chris French, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service
Chris French, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, testifies before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources June 24, 2021.

It is not often that I watch a Senate or House committee hearing in which wildland fire was a topic and later feel positive about what I heard. The June 24 hearing before the full Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources was different. Chris French, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service gave citizens of the United States hope that the agency has a realistic view of the world for which the agency is responsible, and most importantly, can speak honestly to Senators about what they can do to help.

Mr. French answered questions about wildland fire and other topics from several Senators during the two-hour session. You can see the entire hearing at the Committee’s website — it begins at 32:50.


8 thoughts on “More Pace and Scale and Wildland Firefighter Pay: Senate Hearing with Chris French”

  1. I guess that settles it. Firefighters will do timber work for 4 weeks out of the year, ‘when they find time’. Timber temps will still be stuck at the low pay and lack of career ladder. I’ll bet many timber folks will soon be moving over to fire suppression, just to get their career-conditional appointments. How are they going to increase management goals by 200 to 400 percent, using ‘warm bodies’, hired off the street.

    One overlooked impact of using temps in timber is that fewer trees get cut. Spacing never comes out as the silviculturalist prescribes. Whether that’s a good thing, or a bad thing, it depends on your point of view. Another impact is yearly training (and culling) of new employees, while trying to get work done in a limited amount of time.

    • Is it time to consider a US Wildland Fire Service? I know there are many arguments against this and as many opinions, but maybe a joint USDA/Interior service makes some sense: One that collaborates with the USFS, BLM, etc., but focuses on fire and fuels. Worth discussion, at least.

    • Larry, some folks use GPS and do the spacing via programming to get “the right” clumping, etc. At some point I guess trees won’t need to be marked and operators will simply be using the app. I’ve heard about various parts of this, but don’t know how often they are used now and what the uptake will be. Anyone who knows more about these technologies is invited to do a guest post, or post who they might be below (Forest Products Modernization folks?) and I can reach out to them for a guest post.

      • Without knowing about such a system, it’s hard to see GPS replacing timbermarkers, who have other issues to look at. Some people think that “Designation by Description” is a cheaper way to go but, you still have to have savvy inspectors out on the ground to make official reports. What will ‘potential litigators’ think about cutting corners to get more acres (more volume?) done? Will they sue to stop ‘the fox in the hen house’?

        Personally, I think that as long as the job keeps getting done, the hierarchy will ignore the quality of the work. Timbermarking isn’t a ‘real job’.

        • There are new technologies in development that will support more streamlined variants of DxP and DxD-type treatments, as well as new tools for more efficient cruising methods. Both of these approaches use cameras to measure diameter and spacing remotely.

          In the case of implementation, operators can measure diameter and spacing from within the cab, possibly eliminating the need for marking and making DxP a more realistic approach as there’s less of a chance for ‘miscommunication’ and/or operator misjudgment.

          On the cruising side, a basic inventory can be carried out by simply taking the camera for a walk through the unit. Obviously there’s a speed/completeness trade-off as the camera system cannot measure all the variables that a ‘human’ cruiser can. However, in the case of economically low value and ecologically low risk stands, a basic description of the unit – stem density, basal area and a diameter distribution – may be all that’s needed to develop a silvicultural prescription that can be handed off to equipment operators.

          In the interest of transparency, I own and operate a small business that is currently prototyping and testing systems to fill these technological needs.

  2. This is old news, but the State of California recently hired 1400 new firefighters. I wonder how many of them are experienced former Forest Service temporaries. I also wonder how many of those were 13/13 seasonals, too. I’ll bet those numbers opened some eyes, this spring.

  3. The Wash. Post today: “Underpaid firefighters, overstretched budgets: The U.S. isn’t prepared for fires fueled by climate change.”


    At his meeting Wednesday, Biden called wages for federal firefighters “unacceptable” and announced he would be issuing bonuses that effectively raise their minimum salary to $15 an hour. He also said the government would be training National Guard members to provide “surge capacity” this fire season and would offer retention incentives to convert seasonal firefighters into full-time employees.

    In addition, the draft infrastructure bill proposed by a bipartisan group of senators last week would increase the base salary for most federal firefighters by $20,000 a year.

    “It’s a step in the right direction,” Martin said, but improving pay is just the start. Grassroots Wildland Firefighters advocates for creating a National Fire Service with an expanded workforce and full-time benefits, including mental health services.


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