President Trump says Forest Service can hire summer firefighters

2017-02-06 Ashley Bach

President Trump has said he will allow the U.S. Forest Service to hire seasonal firefighters for this summer's wildfire season. The announcement ends a period of uncertainty that included a letter of concern from three Washington lawmakers: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Spokane), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside).

Last week, the three lawmakers were part of a group of House members who sent a letter asking Trump to exempt seasonal firefighters from a federal hiring freeze he announced on Jan. 23. Rep. McMorris Rodgers issued this additional statement with the letter:

“Growing up in Northeastern Washington, I’ve seen the devastation that catastrophic wildfires can cause to a community. For those of us who live in areas prone to wildfires, it’s so important that the Forest Service has all the resources possible to keep our forests healthy and our communities safe,” said McMorris Rodgers. “I am so thankful to those who work and volunteer to help fight fires here in Washington and urge the Office of Personnel Management to respect the important safety needs of our community by exempting seasonal firefighters from this hiring freeze.”

Around the time of the letter, the Trump administration issued a ruling that temporary employees “necessary to meet traditionally recurring seasonal workloads” were exempt from the hiring freeze. But lawmakers said they still needed clarity. Then on Feb. 3, that clarity arrived.

In a statement Friday, U.S. Department of Agriculture said Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young has exempted several critical public safety-related positions “to ensure a safe food supply, fire-safe communities, safe and secure public lands, and rapid emergency response to natural and human-caused disasters.”

The agency will use the exemptions “only as needed and consistent with the intent of the president’s direction.”

The Forest Service hires between 10,000 and 15,000 seasonal employees annually, and 70 percent are either firefighters or work fire-related jobs. The National Park Service has about 11,000 seasonal employees, including rangers and naturalists.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers said she was glad to hear the Forest Service would indeed have enough staff this summer.

“The Trump Administration issued a clarification soon after we sent the letter that protects firefighters and seasonal firefighters from this hiring freeze.”

McMorris-Rodgers stressed the importance of being prepared for the season.

“For all of our local fire leaders, the tribes, the state agencies, the federal agencies that have been coordinating efforts to make sure that we are working together as well as we possibly can. I think that it was really important.”

McMorris-Rodgers is confident that the state will be prepared for the wildfire season, but said she’s working on legislation that can help in better managing the forests to minimize wildfire risk.