Legislation Update: Submit Bills to Retain Giant Sequoia and Prairie Firefighters

Burning Sequoia Orchard in Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP
Sequoia Grove in Sequoia and Kings Canyon NB, November 2021. NPS photo by Daniel Jevkoch.

At Wildfire Today, we’re not too excited about the proposed legislation because most of it has been submitted and sent to a committee and never seen again. But pending review, there are two that will interest land managers and wildland firefighters and may have a better than 50/50 chance of passing.

Save our Sequoias

Today, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield-23) and co-author member of the House Committee on Natural Resources Classification Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) introduced the Save Our Sequoias (SOS) Act.

These trees that can live for up to 3000 years need protection. This should include effective management and reduction of ambient hazardous fuels. Additionally, when firefighting resources are scarce, which appears to be the new normal, multi-agency coordination groups need to consider the irreplaceable value of these distinct orchards when allocating personnel and equipment for setting fires. Some would say this colossus is at least, if not more valuable than man-made structures that might also need protection from nearby fires.

Do we need a new paradigm to protect the famous orchards of the remaining giant sequoias?

Initial surveys found that in a two-year period, 2000 and 2001, 13 to 19 percent of all giant sequoias in their natural range of more than four feet in diameter were either killed by fire (and neglect) or will die in the next few years. In 2020, 10 to 14 percent of the entire Sierra Nevada population were killed by giant sequoia trees over 4 feet in diameter in the castle fire. Early estimates after two fires the following year, the KNP Compound and the Windy Fire, were or would die within the next three to five years.

Three fires, giant sequoias
Three fires in two years have killed giant sequoia trees. The dark green areas represent giant sequoia groves.

Despite the looming threat to the remaining giant sequoias, federal land managers have been unable to increase the frequency and scale of treatments needed to restore the giant sequoia’s resilience to wildfires, insects, and drought. At its current pace, it would take the US Forest Service nearly 52 years to treat just 19 of the 19 top priority giant sequoia orchards that are at high risk in the face of devastating wildfires. Without urgent action, we are in danger of losing our iconic trees in the next several years. Accelerating scientific forest management practices will not only improve the health and resilience of these millennia-old trees, but also improve air and water quality and protect critical habitats for important species such as Pacific fish.

The SOS Act will provide land managers with the emergency tools and resources needed to save these ancient remnants of wonders from unprecedented danger to their long-term survival. The bill will:

  • Enhanced coordination among federal, state, tribal, and local land administrators through co-sponsorship agreements and codification of the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, a partnership of existing Giant Sequoia administrators.
  • Create a Giant Sequoia Health and Resilience Assessment to prioritize bushfire risk reduction therapies in the most vulnerable orchards and track progress in scientific forest management activities.
  • Declare an emergency to simplify and expedite environmental reviews and consultations while maintaining robust scientific analysis.
  • Granting new authority to the National Park Foundation and the National Forest Foundation to accept private donations to facilitate Giant Sequoia and Resilience restoration.
  • Develop a comprehensive reforestation strategy to regenerate giant sequoia in areas devastated by recent catastrophic wildfires.

No text or summary of the bill, HR8168, is available, but on the day it was introduced, Congress.gov had listed 26 participants — 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

Recruit or keep bonus of $1,000 for wildland firefighters

An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2023, HR7900, has been added that will pay a recruiting or retention bonus of at least $1,000 to federal firefighters in the wilds. The minimum amount will be increased each year according to the Consumer Price Index. It will be available once a year to any primary or secondary firefighter after successfully completing a work ability test.

Federal prairie firefighter is defined as “any temporary, seasonal, or permanent position in the Department of Agriculture or the Department of the Interior that maintains a collection, emergency incident management, or fire qualification, as defined annually by Wildland Standards Fire site qualifications are published by National Wildfire Coordinator Group, and primarily engages in or supports wildland fire management activities, including aviation, forest, rangeland and site technicians, heavy equipment process engineering, or fire and fuel management.”

It doesn’t fit in with any additional funding to pay for bonuses, but the dollars will likely come from salary vacancies.

The NDAA is far from being passed, but this is a high priority legislation that is sometimes used as a means of slipping into unrelated bills. For example, the 2014 NDAA included an authorization and $130 million to transfer seven HC-130Hs from the Coast Guard to the US Forest Service for use as air carriers. But this is a long and sad story with some unexpected twists. (Unless there are more delays, one or more of the fires may be flying over the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, not the Forest Service, in 2023.)

author: Bill Jabert

After working full-time in prairie fires for 33 years, he continues to learn, striving to be a student of wildfire. Looking at all of Bill Gabert’s posts

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