Biden Raises Firefighter Pay, Plans for Wildfires With Western Governors

On Wednesday, President Biden convened a virtual meeting with governors from Western states to discuss ways to withstand this year’s devastating wildfire season (which is already very much underway in California). 

In this meeting, Biden introduced a short-term pay raise for federal firefighters, alongside other longer-term improvements for wildfire prevention and risk mitigation efforts, setting aside $50 billion for it in his Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. 

As NBC News reported, the latest meeting comes a week after Biden, during a meeting with the FEMA chief, voiced surprise and outrage over federal firefighters making just $13 per hour promoting the White House to increase firefighter pay.

Why This Matters: With 90% of the West in a severe drought, this year is shaping up to have a particularly intense wildfire season. According to the Associated Press, “Western states have been parched by severe drought and record heat that has burned more than 2,300 square miles (5,900 square kilometers) this year. That’s ahead of the pace in 2020, which saw a near-record 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) burned, killing dozens of people and destroying more than 17,000 homes and other structures.”

According to a White House press release, “Since 2015, the United States has experienced, on average, roughly 100 more large wildfires every year than the year before – and this wildfire season is already outpacing last season in terms of the number of large fires to date.”

President Biden’s focus on bipartisan support for wildfire prevention measures is a welcome change from President Trump, who pulled the United States out of the Paris agreement, blamed poor forest management for wildfires in 2020, and advocated raking forest floors

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who attended the virtual conference, told Reuters: “With due respect to those that don’t believe in science, you got to believe your own damn eyes,” There’s no Republican thermometer, no Democratic thermometer. These realities are here with us today.”

Supporting Firefighters: The U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department combine to employ about 15,000 firefighters. Roughly 70% are full time and 30% are seasonal. Those figures used to be reversed, but have changed as fire seasons have grown longer and more severe.

The pay raises will also come in the form of retention incentives and by providing additional bonuses to those working on the front lines. More experienced permanent firefighters could also be eligible for a 10% retention incentive. Moreover, The FY 2022 President’s Budget includes over $30 billion in FY 2022 to support wildfire management and related activities and disaster relief.

This is an area that has been under-resourced, but that’s going to change and we have to do it,″ Biden told the governors.We can’t cut corners when it comes to managing our wildfires or supporting our firefighters. Right now we have to act and act fast.″

 

Read more about Biden’s wildfire plan here.

 

 

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