Federal firefighter pay could be slashed in weeks without solution from Congress

Federal wildland firefighters have their pay at risk as Congress has failed to pass a permanent funding bill.

Federal firefighters who tackle the nation’s wildfires are facing a potential 50 percent pay cut if Congress continues to pass stop-gap funding measures instead of coming to a permanent solution. 

Congress currently has funded wildland firefighter pay through March 8, after which the U.S. Forest Service could lose a significant amount of its workforce if pay funding is not dealt with. 

The big picture: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in 2021 and championed by President Joe Biden, set a temporary special pay rate for federal wildland firefighters. 

  • It raised minimum wage for wildland firefighters from $13 per hour to $15. It also increased pay by either 50 percent or $20,000 – whichever number was lower. 
  • That special rate expired in September. Since then, Congress has passed short-term solutions to maintain base salary increases, which will expire on March 8. That means wildland firefighters could see the $20,000 or 50 percent increase disappear. 

What we’re watching: Federal and state fire agencies begin recruitment in March, meaning any further delays could impact the USFS’s ability to meet the required minimums for seasonal staffing heading into the 2024 wildfire season. 
What they’re saying: “Without there being a durable, long-term solution, it’s very challenging for the federal government themselves to bring on the talented workforce needed to build fire crews for the coming fire season,” said Matt Dias, President and CEO of the California Forestry Association. “If something is not done, then that pay boost will be clawed back within a matter of weeks. It’s the foundation of the problem we’re facing.”

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