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    HomeGovernmentBipartisan Western Senators Push to Increase Wildland Firefighter Recruitment, Retention

    Bipartisan Western Senators Push to Increase Wildland Firefighter Recruitment, Retention

    Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and a bipartisan group of Western senators to urge the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs to consider a long-term solution to increase wildland firefighter recruitment and retention. In their letter, the senators urge action before short-term pay increases in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for more than 16,000 federal wildland firefighters are set to expire on September 30th, 2023.

    In addition to Senators Feinstein and Bennet, the letter was also signed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

    “Investing in our federal wildland firefighters is a matter of national security as critical infrastructure, homes, communities, structures, and natural resources are at grave and growing risk of catastrophic wildfire,” wrote the senators. “As the 2023 fire season begins, Congress must support our nation’s federal wildland firefighters and ensure the federal government has a robust and resilient workforce.”

    Wildfires have become more destructive, dangerous and costly in recent years, increasing the need to recruit and retain experienced wildland firefighters. The acreage burned by wildfires annually has doubled over the past two decades, with more than 7.5 million acres burned last year, alone. Between 2017 and 2021, wildfires destroyed an average of more than 12,000 homes, businesses and structures annually – more than three times greater than the prior five years. Over the past five years, the cost of these wildfires has been estimated to reach nearly $67 billion.

    “Wildland firefighters are on the front lines of these crises, protecting homes and communities, and helping reduce megafires’ severity and scope. Despite their critical importance, federal wildland firefighters are stretched to their breaking point,” concluded the senators.“Firefighters deserve fair pay, support for their mental and physical health, and time to recover from their dangerous work. In a future with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, Congress cannot wait to ensure that the federal government has the necessary workforce to protect communities.”

    Last Congress, bipartisan, bicameral efforts to provide relief to federal wildland firefighters led to short-term pay increases of up to $20,000 for more than 16,000 Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior firefighters as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These pay increases are set to expire on September 30, 2023.  

    The text of the letter is available here and below: 

    Dear Chairman Peters and Ranking Member Paul:

    We urge the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs’ swift consideration of legislation that authorizes a long-term solution to increase wildland firefighter recruitment and retention. Bipartisan, bicameral efforts during the 117th Congress – including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Public Law 117–58) – provided temporary relief to the federal wildland firefighter workforce through a short-term pay increase of $20,000 or 50 percent of their base salary (whichever is less). This relief will expire on September 30, 2023 for the over 16,000 USDA and DOI firefighters who received temporary raises. As the 2023 fire season begins, Congress must support our nation’s federal wildland firefighters and ensure the federal government has a robust and resilient workforce. 

    Investing in our federal wildland firefighters is a matter of national security as critical infrastructure, homes, communities, structures, and natural resources are at grave and growing risk of catastrophic wildfire. These investments are critical for increased capacity, housing, mental health and well-being. Without increased capacity, work-life balance is a challenge. Across the West, extreme weather fuels frequent, large, and severe wildfires. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the total acres burned by wildfire has doubled in the last 20 years, with over 7.5 million acres burned in 2022 alone. Between 2017 and 2021, wildfires destroyed over 12,000 homes, businesses, and other structures on average annually, more than triple the preceding five-year period. These fires are exceptionally expensive, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimating wildfires costs during the past five years reaching nearly $67 billion. Climate data shows that wildfire season has increased by 80 days since the 1970s and climate projections show the wildfire season will continue to grow longer.  

    Wildland firefighters are on the front lines of these crises, protecting homes and communities, and helping reduce megafires’ severity and scope. Despite their critical importance, federal wildland firefighters are stretched to their breaking point. They are working increasingly long fire seasons under extreme conditions. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that low pay, poor work-life balance, and mental health challenges, among other factors, limit federal wildland firefighter recruitment and retention. 

    Firefighters deserve fair pay, support for their mental and physical health, and time to recover from their dangerous work. In a future with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, Congress cannot wait to ensure that the federal government has the necessary workforce to protect communities. We are grateful for the bravery of our wildland firefighters. We look forward to working with you to advance permanent solutions to ensure they get the pay and benefits they deserve. 

    Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
    Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/
    As California's senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein has built a reputation as an independent voice, working with both Democrats and Republicans to find common-sense solutions to the problems facing California and the Nation.
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