WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is part of a bipartisan group of senators urging the Biden administration to establish a special pay rate for federal wildland firefighters to prevent staffing shortages as wildfires continue to spread in New Mexico and throughout the West.
Due to an outdated policy, federal wildland firefighters have historically been severely underpaid, in comparison to other state and local fire services. The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act requires the federal Office of Personnel Management to establish a new “wildland firefighter” occupational series.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Interior, and Office of Personnel Management, the bipartisan group of senators wrote“we urge you to take necessary steps to avert critical staffing shortages in the wildland firefighting workforce. By using existing authority to establish a special pay rate for federal wildland firefighters, we can directly address the recruitment and retention crisis, and ensure that the pending ‘wildland firefighter’ occupational series reflects the professional capabilities of our wildland firefighters.”
With wildfires growing more intense and dangerous each year because of the climate crisis, and because of low pay and challenging work conditions, federal land management agencies have faced major recruitment and retention problems.
The senators are requesting that the administration “commit to rebuilding the ranks of our firefighting service. This starts with increases in pay and benefits. The situation is urgent, and we stand ready to work with you to ensure our federal wildland firefighters are fully supported and compensated.”
Read the full text of the letter, led by U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) by clicking here.
As part of the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Senator Heinrich also worked hard to pass major support for critical forest management and restoration programs that help to reduce severe wildfires and protect watersheds in New Mexico.
In the Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Agreement that was passed in March, Heinrich, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, secured $5.7 billion for the U.S. Forest Service, a 5.5 percent increase over previous levels. This funding will allow the Forest Service to radically improve its forest restoration and fire risk reduction efforts and to increase year-round staffing to carry out this work.