JACKSON, Wyo. —Megadrought, wildfires, and flooding.
That’s the seasonal outlook for the Western U.S., according to meteorologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
And as the U.S. braces for a summer of challenging weather conditions, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Randy Moore told the Senate on May 4 that his agency is short thousands of wildland firefighters.
Moore shared that while 90% of the Forest Service’s positions are filled nationally, there are some regions where only 50% of the positions have been filled.
Despite labor shortages in almost every other industry in the valley, the Jackson District of the U.S. Forest Service is in “pretty good shape,” according to Evan Guzik, public affairs specialist for Bridger-Teton National Forest.
The biggest shortages are in remote areas like Oregon, Washington and California, where housing is unaffordable and recruiting seasonal firefighters has become nearly impossible.
Moore explained that a competitive pay market has also contributed to this shortage.
“We are making offers. There’s a lot of declinations in those offers,” Moore 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.”
In November, Biden’s infrastructure bill promised a $600 million pay raise to federal wildland firefighters. The raise may have helped the agency’s recruitment and retention efforts, but instead has been stalled for months while the government figures out how to implement them.
With fires currently ravaging New Mexico, forecasters have issued red flag warnings of extreme wildlife danger because of low humidity levels, unpredictable winds and warm temperatures.
“Drought has increased, especially in the West as it has warmed,” said Deke Arndt, NOAA’s climate science and services chief. “The reason the West is warming is climate change, especially over the multiple decade timeframe.”