Randy Moore, the new chief of the U.S. Forest Service, outlined his priorities Wednesday for growing the federal firefighting workforce, snuffing out fires earlier, boosting forest management and clearing debris for critical water runoff in the West.
“America's forests are in a state of emergency, and it's time to treat them like one,” said Moore in his opening remarks. “This should be a call to action.”
Speaking to the House Ag Committee's Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, Moore emphasized that wildfire prevention spending should be put on an equal footing to the amount the nation spends on fighting fires. He added that increasing the pay for federal firefighters, a move the Biden administration took in August, is “just the start” for strengthening the workforce. The service, he noted, has lost 38% of the non-fire workforce over the decades, leading to overworked employees.
The many vacant positions within the service have eroded continuity and focus, he added. He vowed to build new partnerships with state and local governments and private organizations to recruit more workers. Moore was also supportive of a civilian climate corps to bolster resilience and support new careers.
With prevention efforts, Moore said the government must treat 20 million acres over the next 10 years. He saw the success firsthand of such treatments in keeping the Caldor Fire away from communities in Lake Tahoe.
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He pledged to help expand markets for the small-diameter wood removed through forest management projects to stimulate local economies, offering biochar and biosolids for soil amendments as potential areas for investment. Yet he acknowledged the USFS will only reach 60% of its goal this year for harvesting 4 billion board feet a year, due to the number of fires that have burned through planned timber sales and restoration work.
Moore addressed criticism that the service’s “let it burn policy” led the Tamarack Fire in California to grow from a small conflagration into a catastrophic wildfire. At the time, 27,000 firefighters were already battling more than 100 major fires throughout the West.
“It's really about protecting life and property first,” he said of the service’s priorities. “That fire was in a remote area, and so the only choice we really had was to monitor that fire …. We would have loved to have been able to have enough crews to put on that fire.”
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