Chief’s Review includes Juneau visit

The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California began on Aug. 17, 2013 and is under investigation. U.S. Forest Service photo via Flickr Creative Commons

The head of the U.S. Forest Service says fire suppression efforts are putting such an enormous budgetary pressure on the agency that other programs and activities, even staffing levels, are being limited or cut back.

We’re having another challenging fire season.”

Chief Tom Tidwell stopped in Juneau last week for a Chief’s Review of area facilities. He had just visited the Stanislaus National Forest, the site of the Yosemite Rim Fire.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell answers a reporter’s question as Associate Chief Mary Wagner listens during their visit of Forest Service facilities in Juneau. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Tidwell said staffing levels have declined at least 33-percent for both the Alaska Region and the entire Forest Service over the last decade.

Over the last ten years, we’ve had to, every year, shift more and more of our budget to fire suppression.”

He said that responding to fires with essentially a flat budget over the last decade has affected forest management, recreation, and responding to land use requests.

So, how do we gain more capacity to meet the needs from the public? Because even though our capacity has gone down over the last ten years, the demands from the public have not gone down at all. In fact, from everything I see and hear, they are higher, much higher today than a decade ago.”

Tidwell said Congress, through sequestration, had reduced the Forest Service’s initial request and allocated a total of $950-million dollars for Forest Service fire suppression efforts around the nation.

During an interview on Thursday, Tidwell said that they planned to transfer funds from other Forest Service programs to pay for this season’s fire suppression costs.

One of the results of all this has been the need for us to transfer potentially up to $600 million this year to pay for the cost of suppressing these fires. So, it’s going to have impacts on our ability over the next four weeks to be able to carry our the rest of our programs, and we’ll do everything we can to mitigate that. But there’s no question that’s going to slow down some of the work and really postpone work that normally would be continuing into October and November because things will be delayed. As you well know, especially up here, our field seasons for the most of our National Forests are not twelve months.”

Tidwell reports that places like California are experiencing record temperatures and record low moisture levels. Nationwide, he said the fire season is actually below a ten-year average for acreage and number of fires. The difference, he said, is that some of this year’s fires are near population centers and require a concentrated and deliberate response with a lot of resources. He also said that most of the media rarely recognize that they put out hundreds of fires every day or about 98-percent of all fires during their initial response.

Additional coverage on September 4, 2013 at 11:37 am

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said his agency will continue to rely on the support of conservation groups to perform forest restoration, as long as federal dollars for the work continue to dwindle. Tidwell was in Southeast Alaska last week for a review of the Forest Service’s regional operations. The hands-on review by agency officials takes place about once every seven years.

Original story on August 30, 2013 at 9:01 am

The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California began on Aug. 17, 2013 and is under investigation. The fire has consumed approximately 199,237 acres and is 32% contained. U.S. Forest Service photo by Mike McMillan via Flickr Creative Commons

The head of the U.S. Forest Service toured facilities and met employees in the Capital City on Thursday.

Chief Tom Tidwell is making the rounds as part of a Chief’s Review.

He said it’s intended to get a sense of the challenges that the Alaska Region and communities are facing.

To gain the insight to make sure that we’re doing everything we can in the Washington office to be able to support the Region with their efforts. And also to ensure that we have a good understanding of some of the things that we need to work on that will help us a better job to deliver our programs. A lot of the review has been sitting down and having discussions with our partners and with community leaders.”

Chief Tidwell is accompanied by the Associate Chief of the Forest Service Mary Wagner.

Some of the scheduled activities on Thursday included a Budget and Talent Management Panel and a visit of the new Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory at Auke Lake. He was scheduled to wrap up his visit to Juneau on Friday.

Chief Tidwell said he had just arrived in Juneau from the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, site of the devastating Rim Fire.

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