Casey At the Bat on Fire

Casey Judd, Business Manager of the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, gave hard hitting testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources yesterday. He told them that our federal land management agencies and their fire programs are ill-prepared for the upcoming wildfire season.

Judd discussed three causes: the mass migration of federal wildland firefighters to CAL FIRE and other fire agencies offering better pay, benefits, and working conditions; the diversion of fire preparedness resources to pay for a variety of non-fire programs, positions and projects; and a paucity of hazardous fuel reduction projects.

The full text of Casey Judd’s testimony is [here]. Some excerpts:

This and other committees have been consistently told by the Agencies and “experts” that suppression costs are continuing to rise because of 1) climate/drought and 2) the increasing costs of protecting the Wildland Urban Interface. We, the FWFSA, take serious note with these assumptions. While these two elements are indeed factors, proper preparedness mitigates to a great degree the influence these two elements have on the overall costs of suppression. The question has been posed by both Congress and OMB: If it stands to reason that proper preparedness lead to reduced suppression costs, why after increased preparedness funding under the National Fire Plan, have suppression costs continued to rise? A simple answer – Smoke and Mirrors. …

In February 2006, Agency (USDA) representatives appeared before this committee and once again assured the Committee that adequate preparedness resources would be in place. Firefighters knew this wasn’t going to be the case. The continuation of diverting preparedness dollars resulted in less preparedness resources in the field. The diversion of fuels reduction dollars reduced the number of treated acres. The result was what firefighters expected: reduced preparedness resources allowed many small fires to grow in size, intensity and ultimately cost as either Incident Commanders waited for federal resources that had to now come from much greater distances or, in the typical alternative, the Agency reverted to its over-reliance on significantly higher-priced non-federal resources to fill in the gaps of the missing federal resources. Either way suppression costs increased needlessly. The result was a record year for suppression costs.

Rather than admitting the diversion of funds played a role in less resources being in place and thus ultimately increasing the costs of fires needlessly, the Agency simply reverted to its theory of climate and wildland urban interface as the causes of increased suppression costs.

In 2007 we suggested to Congress that a repeat of 2006 was inevitable. We further predicted as we correctly did in 2006 that the Agency would return to Congress in the fall, complain that it had been a terrible season and seek a supplemental appropriation of another half billion dollars. That is exactly what happened. …

As we enter the 2008 season, the Forest Service fire program, primarily focused in the western United States, and especially in California is imploding. …

Unless Congress takes immediate action to break the vicious cycle described herein, the infrastructure of our Nation’s federal wildland firefighting forces will continue to be less than adequate to meet the complexities of wildfires in the 21st century. Allowing the land management agencies to continue to manage their fire programs as they do today will continue to needlessly result in skyrocketing suppression costs borne by the American taxpayer. Throwing more money at the problem, i.e. emergency supplemental appropriations without demanding proper fiscal management of the funds already appropriated to the Agencies for suppression, preparedness and hazardous fuels reduction will not result in a stronger, more effective and fiscally efficient fire program. …

[T]he compensation concept of “portal to portal” pay has been a subject of contention between federal wildland firefighters and their employers for decades. Despite the fact that the vast majority of paid professional firefighters in the United States, inclusive of Department of Defense federal firefighters are compensated in this way, the land management agencies have steadfastly refused to do so. It is likely a result of the fact that the fire program is managed by those with no fire background and thus ill-equipped to understand what is needed to field a top notch firefighting force.

Ironically the payment of “portal to portal” to non-federal firefighters (primarily those in the West from municipal fire agencies) is also a major factor in skyrocketing fire suppression costs. One only needs to look at major costly fires in the West and see that the majority of suppression costs are for non-federal resources.

It is unconscionable for the Federal Government to criticize the rising costs of wildfire suppression while continuing to pay non-federal firefighters portal to portal pay while taking their own, inherently less expensive firefighters “off the clock” on the same incident. …

If the agencies are unwilling to make the necessary changes, we urge Congress to make them for them or, in the alternative, take fire away from the land management agencies and create a stand-alone federal wildland fire service managed by firefighters for firefighters.

Until these changes are made, our Nation’s federal land management agencies will be ill-prepared to face this and subsequent fire seasons and will remain unable to provide the American public with the strongest, yet most cost-efficient and effective wildland firefighting force in the world.

Judd’s testimony was mentioned in an article in the New York Times this morning [here]. Most of that article was devoted to the danger that awaits California, although the entire West is threatened by a poorly, manned, trained, and equipped federal firefighting force. Further, all western states face a massive fuel build-up that has accumulated on federal lands ever since federal land management agencies abandoned stewardship in favor of unmanagement, a policy promulgated by the litigious enviro-left and a pandering Congress. And the NYT article misses that point almost entirely, concentrating on money, money, money instead of stewardship. An excerpt from the NYT (motto: We Always Get It Wrong) article:

Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, took note of an ominously early start of fire season after a round of fires in Northern California this month destroyed dozens of homes. Mrs. Feinstein called delays in hiring federal firefighters unacceptable and said that only 186 of the Forest Service’s 276 engines in California were available to respond to the fires.

“With the hot, dry and windy conditions that led to the 13 major fires in California,” the senator said, “I believe the agency should have been able to muster a stronger force. This is only further evidence that the Forest Service must act quickly to fill these critical staffing positions.”

Again, Dianne, it’s the FUELS, STUPID!!! Hot, dry and windy conditions happen every year. Filling positions and mustering a stronger force will not do a damn thing, will not save one home, but instead will divert resources from the real problem, which, I repeat, is the FUELS, STUPID!!!

The NYT quoted Mark E. Rey, the Agriculture Department under secretary who oversees the Forest Service as claiming that “the Forest Service had cleared or trimmed back 26 million acres of vegetation since 2000 to reduce fire danger.”

That’s a big forking lie. Just a flat out, bald-faced, unmitigated lie. By their own reports less 2.6 million acres of federal forests (less than than 10 percent of the claimed figure) has been “cleared or trimmed back” under the Healthy Forests Act, principally because that Act has been underfunded and nearly every proposed HFA project is enjoined by federal judges in suits brought by the the litigious enviro-left. The word “enviro” is misused in that context, by the way, because the radical left’s goal is destruction of the environment, not conservation or stewardship.

The NYT article has this to say about San Diego:

The city has opened an additional fire station, plans over the next two years to clear the 1,190 acres of brush that abut housing developments and acquired a second water-dropping helicopter to arrive later in the summer. In addition, a county supervisor, Ron Roberts, has pushed the county to lease two “super scooper” firefighting planes for the fall as a stopgap.

Eleven hundred acres of brush? A more effective target would be eleven hundred thousand acres of brush. “Clearing” is not the needed treatment anyway. Restoration to grasses and savanna (the historical condition pre-San Diego) with frequent, regular, seasonal, light burning is required to abate the catastrophic fire hazard.

Outside experts have recommended 20 additional fire stations in the city, and elected leaders in the city and county increasingly agree that the only way to find a steady source of revenue for expanded fire protection is through taxes.

Tax and spend on useless government waste is NOT the answer. Guilt-tripping wage earners for not heaving their hard earned dollars into the communal burn barrel is so 1960’s! The NYT is an anachronism in every possible way, and a dying one, as their plummeting circulation drives them into impending bankruptcy.

Casey Judd has it right. Fuels management via restoration and rapid initial attack with intention to suppress using well-paid, trained, and equipped firefighters are the means to reduce not only fire suppression expenses but wholesale ecosystem incineration as well.

However, despite his strong words, there is little doubt that Congress failed to get the message once again.

20 Jun 2008, 6:49am
by bear bait

It is too bad the concepts of “protect” and “preserve” are so alien to government. They protect ecosystems that are anthropogenic by excluding man, with the goal to preserve them. Can’t get there from here.

Fire is a symptom of too much fuel. If I remember the fireman who would come to elementary school and quiz us about fire, he would talk about fuel, oxygen, ignition, and the sources for all three. If you have fuel and oxygen, then all you need is an ignition source and you have a fire. Elementary school stuff. Lessen the fuels and fire frequency and intensity decrease. The oxygen will always be there, and if it is not, who would be here to care? The school issue was about ignition and ignition sources. Of course, we knew soon enough we were the objects of his discussion.

So if Congress, eco-idiots, lame ass Federal agencies, the all-knowing media, none of them get it, I just have to guess we are not going to do much other than whine about fires. The bad deal of government ownership of land, and they own a third of it all in this country, is that the ability to have a clear, understandable, actionable, plan to accomplish a goal is diluted by the onion layers of the bureaucracy, and the goals are partly met, at best, on a hit and miss basis. We will just have to get used to it. Socialist countries work like that. There is the entitled class that has to be attended to, given their dole. There is the wealthy and elite class, and they make sure their views are known and acted on. And there is the middle, which is too busy trying not to be the poor and aspiring to be in the wealthier classes, to take the time to know and understand the issues.

My only hope is that Peter DeFazio would go away. Take Tim Russert’s job. You have to be a connected in-house D.C. lefty to hold the job, and he would be perfect. His replacement could be worse, but he or she wouldn’t have any seniority. DeFazio has yet to figure out his job for Oregon is first, to do no harm. He has done harm. And now we have the Wyden plan circulating, which again is about protecting and not preserving. They just don’t get it. Never will. Urban, lawyerly, Beltway, media hog, affected, politicians who just don’t get it. Not a clue. Their own prejudices get in the way. Their party gets in the way. Government by government for government. Sad, sad. sad.



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