June 21, 2022

Wyden, Merkley Welcome Biden Administration Announcement on Federal Wildland Firefighter Pay, Renew Call for Immediate Implementation of Changes

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley welcomed today's announcement from the Biden administration on its plans to increase federal wildland firefighter pay and establish a new occupational series for these firefighters as required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Following up on a letter they sent to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) last week, the senators today renewed their call for the administration to immediately implement these changes which are one month overdue.

The senators also welcomed a new initiative by the Biden administration to establish a wildland firefighter health and wellbeing program to better support wildland firefighters.

"I'm glad to see the well-being and health of our nation's wildland firefighters remain a priority for the Biden administration," said Wyden. "I welcome today's announcement, but now let's get it done and deliver these brave folks the pay they deserve. With this being the first day of summer and temperatures throughout Oregon forecast to soar later this week, there’s not a moment to waste."

“Wildland firefighters work tirelessly to keep our homes and communities safe during Oregon’s intensifying wildfire seasons, and we must provide them with adequate pay and resources” said Merkley, who leveraged his position as Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to secure funding to bring on more permanent wildland firefighters and increase their pay. “I am happy to have been able to secure these funds for a well-deserved increase to federal wildland firefighter pay. This must be implemented now to support the firefighters who work so hard to protect us, especially as we enter into the peak of Oregon’s wildfire season.” 

Last week, Wyden and Merkley urged OPM to swiftly implement salary increases for federal wildland firefighters as required by the recent bipartisan infrastructure law. Congress included $600 million in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to raise federal wildland firefighter salaries by up to $20,000 per year. The law specifically set a 180-day timeline for the development of a distinct “wildland firefighter” occupational series with a pay scale recognizing their lifesaving work. The implementation of these provisions is now one-month overdue.

"The implementation of these provisions, as required in the IIJA, are imperative for the morale of federal wildland firefighters and for firefighter recruitment and retention, to address the concerning workforce shortages in Oregon and across the West," Wyden and Merkley wrote to OPM Director Kiran Ahuja. "These brave individuals deserve appropriate recognition and compensation for putting their lives on the line to protect our communities from fire. Due to these delays, wildland firefighters are entering what is shaping up to be another difficult fire season in the dark as to whether they will be fairly compensated for their work. They deserve better." 

A full copy of the letter can be found here.