Letters from the West

Trump administration gives agencies go-ahead to hire seasonal firefighters, rangers

Firefighters work to keep the Soda Fire on the south side of Idaho 78 east of Marsing in 2015.
Firefighters work to keep the Soda Fire on the south side of Idaho 78 east of Marsing in 2015. kjones@idahostatesman.com

The Trump administration told federal land management agencies they can again hire seasonal firefighters and park rangers to protect national forests, parks, tribal lands and wildlife refuges.

President Trump placed a hiring freeze on the federal government Jan. 23, leaving the nation’s wildland firefighting agencies up in the air at the time they traditionally begin hiring their summer workforces. Those agencies got guidance on hiring this week.

The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management issued a memo Tuesday that listed positions, including firefighters, exempt from the freeze. Seasonal employees and short-term temporary employees “necessary to meet traditionally recurring seasonal workloads” can be hired, the memo said.

The exemption also allows agency heads to hire employees necessary to “meet national security responsibilities” or “public safety responsibilities (including essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property).” The ability to fight fires and perform other tasks by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service could have been threatened if the freeze had been extended.

In a statement Friday, U.S. Department of Agriculture said Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young has exempted several critical public safety-related positions “to ensure a safe food supply, fire-safe communities, safe and secure public lands, and rapid emergency response to natural and human-caused disasters.”

The agency will use the exemptions “only as needed and consistent with the intent of the president’s direction.”

The Forest Service hires between 10,000 and 15,000 seasonal employees annually, and 70 percent are either firefighters or work fire-related jobs. The National Park Service has about 11,000 seasonal employees, including rangers and naturalists.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker