On March 12, 2024, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing titled “The Findings and Recommendations of the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission.” The hearing discussed the findings and recommendations of the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission (Commission), established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Several Senators raised issues of particular importance to RCRC including the new USFS Old Growth Proposed Rule; Good Neighbor Authority; affordable housing for firefighters; and firefighter salaries.  

Ranking Member, John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), asked how the Biden administration's old-growth forest management policy would help confront the wildfire crisis. Ms. Meryl Harrell, the USDA Deputy Under Secretary of Natural Resources and the Environment, explained that the old-growth strategy is a complement to a structural wildfire strategy, emphasizing the need for proactive stewardship and adaptive management strategies to reflect risk on the ground. Ms. Kelly Norris, State Forester for Wyoming's State Forestry Division, stressed the importance of actively managing forests to protect old-growth, as wildfire is a leading cause of loss of old-growth. She highlighted the flexibility and adaptability of their contracting systems and administration as reasons for their effectiveness. 

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) inquired about potential solutions to address firefighter’s housing needs. Ms. Harrell responded that the recommendations made by the Commission have included providing support for workforce housing; investing in housing facilities; waiving fair market value; and creating partnerships with local community housing partners. When asked about firefighter salaries and benefits, Ms. Harrell emphasized the need for permanent pay increases; retirement benefits; housing; and investments in physical and mental health.  

Lawmakers have expressed intentions to pursue permanent pay raises for federal firefighters. The bipartisan Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act (H.R. 5169), sponsored by Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colorado), and the companion legislation sponsored by Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona), S. 2272, are current examples of the ongoing advocacy for a permanent solution to the firefighter pay disparity. RCRC has actively advocated for permanent action to sustain pay increases for federal wildland firefighters, in recognition of the importance of retaining fire suppression forces on federally managed lands.  

For more information, contact RCRC Senior Policy Advocate, Staci Heaton