The U.S. Forest Service will reduce fire personnel this summer throughout the country though the San Jacinto Ranger District should not be affected.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement of fire cuts May 13 during a press conference with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The conference highlighted the agencies’ collaboration during the 2013 fire season, addressing the reductions the Forest Service has to implement in its fire program.
The 2013 sequestration requires all federal agencies to reduce program and activity funding by nearly 5 percent across the board.
While the Forest Service has steadfastly refused to answer how this reduction would affect its fire programs, Vilsack said, “... as a result of sequester and across the board cuts that have been applied we’ll have about 500 fewer firefighters at the Forest Service than we would otherwise have. That may impact about 50 engines that we would otherwise have.”
When asked to elaborate on the effect of these reduction on fire protection, Vilsack said the Forest Service would, “under normal circumstances have 10,500 folks or so on staff — either temporary or permanent firefighters available. That number will actually be 10,000 instead of 10,500 so that gives you a sense ... in terms of personnel. The 50 engines is related to 1,000 engines so that gives you a sense of the proportions.”
The Forest Service national and regional offices have not responded to inquiries about how these reductions will affect its Region 5, in which the San Bernardino National Forest is located.
But at the last Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting, SBNF Fire Prevention Officer Randy Unkovich said federal sequestration actions have had no effect on the Forest Service’s fire resources and the agency is trying to fill as many of its full-time units as possible.
“The Fawnskin Fire was an eye opener,” he said. “We want to be fully staffed for an early fire season.”
Still, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson did provide the following statement: “While the impacts of firefighter reductions to suppression activities due to sequestration will be managed nationally, details about which areas will have fewer firefighters this year is not readily available at the national level. The U.S. Forest Service will identify needs based on the level of actual and projected fire activity and will preposition personnel and equipment as necessary to respond. Additionally, we will supplement existing resources with contractors to ensure all wildland fires are managed with an effective, risk-based and efficient response.”