The Forest Service has filled as few as 50% of firefighter positions in some areas
This fire year is on track to be as extreme as the last few. At the same time, the Forest Service is battling a historically tight labor market and a housing affordability crisis, making it difficult for the agency to hire enough wildland firefighters.
Forest Service Chief Randy Moore told a Senate committee that while about 90% of its firefighter positions have been filled nationally, there are certain areas where as few as 50% of the positions have been filled.
“We are making offers. There’s a lot of declinations in those offers,” he said. “Because when you have counties, states and private firefighters offering sometimes double the salary that Forest Service firefighters are making, it’s very hard to compete with that.”
A Forest Service spokesperson added that some of the biggest shortages are in areas where housing is unaffordable and in remote locations, especially with seasonal firefighters. At the state level, they said Oregon, Washington and California are having the hardest time recruiting and hiring for these temporary positions.
Moore said the agency plans to extend its hiring season through July to help fill hiring gaps, and is looking at other contracting options, too.
Even with the shortages, though, the agency says it’s on track to hire more permanent employees than temporary ones for the first time ever.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.