June 09, 2022

Wyden Sounds the Alarm on Wildland Firefighter Shortage, Backlog of Prevention Work at U.S. Forest Service Budget Hearing

Wyden asked the U.S. Forest Service Chief about the agency's plans to fix the shortage of permanent wildland firefighters, as well as increase the number of acres treated to prevent fire in Oregon and the West

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today pressed U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on how the agency plans to use the money secured for wildfire in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address the critical shortage of permanent wildland firefighters and make sure Oregon and the entire West are prepared for what is expected to be another catastrophic wildfire season. At the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Forest Service budget, Wyden also called for better pay and benefits for firefighters.

"Oregonians were telling me last week everywhere I went that the shortage of permanent wildland fire positions, if not addressed, is on its way to becoming a four-alarmer. Already in Oregon there is a 20 percent vacancy rate in these positions and western states are borrowing firefighters from each other. That's a recipe for trouble," Wyden said during the hearing. "What's the most important response? Better pay and decent benefits for these courageous firefighters so they can pay their rent and buy groceries. That is not the case today according to firefighters talking to me. I was told last week if a firefighter in Oregon has a small family and a modest-sized roof over their head, it takes four paychecks to make a month's worth of rent."

Wyden also asked how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding he supported is being used for hazardous fuels treatment and other prevention projects in Oregon and nationwide.

"Millions of acres of dead and dying material is piling up on the forest floor. This material is a magnet for fire. These fires are not your grandfather's fires -- they're bigger, they're hotter, they're more powerful. We've got to reduce the backlog [of prevention work]," Wyden said.

Earlier this week, Wyden sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on these issues. Chief Moore committed at today’s hearing to Wyden to help get a timely response to the letter.

A video of Wyden's exchange with Chief Moore at today's hearing can be found here


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