MEDFORD, Ore. — Despite being one of many government agencies left unfunded when the partial government shutdown began at the end of December, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) said on Friday that they were able to keep hiring new workers throughout that time — theoretically meaning that they aren't behind schedule on preparing for summer fires.
"The Forest Service made the decision to continue moving forward with permanent & temporary hiring processes during the government shutdown due to the time critical nature of the work," the agency said. "We used prior year funding to pay some of the employees working on this effort."
Those new employees still won't start until March to mid-May — so the USFS remains on track for fire and field season "for the most part."
Nevertheless, the past week has been a busy one for the Forest Service. Beginning on January 20, several agency experts traveled to Wenatchee, Washington to start hiring permanent wildland firefighters. Then, more representatives started working with a team in Bend to prepare for temporary hires.
On Monday, representatives from every national forest in Oregon and Washington gathered in Springfield to kick-start those temporary hires — looking over 5,800 applications across the two states, 600 more than last year, USFS said.
One major boon has been a hiring policy change — the agency advertised their jobs for a month this year. Last year those positions were only up for a week.
Over the next two weeks, USFS Pacific Northwest will make 1,500 temporary job offers across the region. 114 of those positions will be with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. 65 of those jobs are specific to firefighting positions.
"Temporary positions specific to fire included filling vacancies on engine, hotshot and helitack crews, vacancies in fuels reduction and fire prevention and staffing two lookouts (near Prospect and Jacksonville)," the agency said.
Rogue River-Siskiyou is also hiring 23 permanent firefighting positions — including fuels specialists and technicians, hand crew members, engine operators, helicopter foreman, several apprentices and a tanker base tech.
USFS said that there were a few permanent hires that were delayed by the shutdown, but they will be "prioritized and processed by HR."