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Forest Service Considers Full-Time Firefighters

A member of the Wyoming Hotshots ignites grass as part of efforts to control New Mexico's Pine Lodge Fire in 2019.

The U.S. Forest Service is rethinking how it employs firefighters.

During a hearing of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee last week, Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said the agency is considering shifting from a seasonal workforce to a full-time firefighting operation.

"We no longer have a fire season, we have a fire year," Christiansen said. "Additionally, we are working to really target and increase our outputs on treatments on the lands-hazardous fuels reductions."

Christiansen said the agency has been studying the idea of full-time firefighters for more than a year. It mirrors the Interior Department's proposed $50 million initiative to create "a more stable and permanent wildland firefighting workforce to better align with the challenges of prolonged periods of wildfire activity."

The Forest Service says it currently employs more than 10,000 firefighters, most of whom are seasonal workers. And the agency already spends about half of its annual budget combating wildfires.

"The needs when I was a firefighter over 30 years ago is not the same that we have today," Christiansen said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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