Denver — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined a group of senators in a letter urging the Biden Administration to begin preparing to implement the wildland firefighter pay and personnel provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Amid historic wildfires across the West, federal firefighting agencies are facing major staffing shortfalls due to a significant pay gap between federal and state wildland firefighters.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, Bennet and the senators wrote: “We ask that your agencies begin working together now to be in position to swiftly implement the pay increase for federal wildland firefighters, the development of a distinct ‘wildland firefighter’ occupational series, and the conversion of at least 1,000 seasonal firefighting positions to permanent positions once this bill is signed into law.”
In October 2020, Bennet and Colorado U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse (D), Ed Perlmutter (D), Jason Crow (D), and Diana DeGette (D) requested several reforms to improve pay, job stability, and benefits for federal wildfire personnel.
In addition to Bennet, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
The text of the letter is available HERE and below.
Dear Secretary Haaland, Secretary Vilsack, and Director Ahuja:
We write today in support of the bipartisan infrastructure bill (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) and urge you to prepare for rapid implementation of provisions relating to federal wildland firefighters. Specifically, we ask that your agencies begin working together now to be in position to swiftly implement the pay increase for federal wildland firefighters, the development of a distinct “wildland firefighter” occupational series, and the conversion of at least 1,000 seasonal firefighting positions to permanent positions once this bill is signed into law.
The disparity in pay between federal and non-federal wildland firefighters has led to a shortage of federal firefighting personnel and limits our nation’s ability to respond to these increasingly devastating natural disasters. Recognizing this, Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to include $600 million for wildland firefighters in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This is an important step toward reducing significant pay discrepancies and bolstering our federal government’s firefighting capacity. Given that such a large percentage of land in the United States and the West is managed by the federal government, we have an obligation to ensure agencies have the personnel they need to prevent and fight fires on that land, and to ensure that our firefighting personnel are adequately compensated for the highly skilled and dangerous work they do.
As you know, there is a no longer a wildfire “season” as wildfires are now a year-round threat. This year has already seen catastrophic fires in the West, including the Dixie fire in California and the Bootleg fire in Oregon. As the 6th Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes, the last decade was hotter than any period in the last 125,000 years. The historical heat waves in the West, severe drought, and increased wildfire activity will be more common as temperatures continue to warm. While we must do all we can to mitigate future emissions, we must also adapt and increase resources committed to protecting communities, natural and cultural resources, and wildlife from fire.
Thank you for your ongoing work to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Please do not hesitate to let us know if there are any resources Congress can provide to further bolster our nation’s preparedness and ability to respond.