June 06, 2023

As Fire Season Begins, Cortez Masto Joins Bipartisan Push to Increase Wildland Firefighter Recruitment and Retention

The Senators’ Letter Comes as Temporary Pay Increases for Wildland Firefighters in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Are Set to Expire in September 

“Stretched to Their Breaking Point” Wildland Firefighters Deserve Better Pay, Support, And Time to Recover

Washington, D.C.  – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and a bipartisan group of Western senators in urging the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs to consider a long-term solution to increase wildland firefighter recruitment and retention. In their letter, the senators push Congress to act before short-term pay increases in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for over 16,000 federal wildland firefighters are set to expire on  September 30th, 2023.

In the last 20 years, wildfires have burned more than 8.8 million acres in Nevada, and the average number of acres burned per year has doubled in that timeframe. Between 2017 and 2021, wildfires destroyed an average of over 12,000 homes, businesses, and structures annually nationwide – more than three times greater than the prior five years. Over the past five years, the cost of these wildfires has been estimated to reach nearly $67 billion.

“Investing in our federal wildland firefighters is a matter of national security as critical infrastructure, homes, communities, structures, and natural resources are at grave and growing risk of catastrophic wildfire,” wrote the senators. “As the 2023 fire season begins, Congress must support our nation’s federal wildland firefighters and ensure the federal government has a robust and resilient workforce.”

“Wildland firefighters are on the front lines of these crises, protecting homes and communities, and helping reduce megafires’ severity and scope. Despite their critical importance, federal wildland firefighters are stretched to their breaking point,” said the senators. “Firefighters deserve fair pay, support for their mental and physical health, and time to recover from their dangerous work. In a future with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, Congress cannot wait to ensure that the federal government has the necessary workforce to protect communities.”

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also joined the letter effort.

Last Congress, Senator Cortez Masto helped secure and implement provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to give all federal wildland firefighters, including many working throughout Nevada, short-term pay raises up to $20,000. These pay increases are set to expire on September 30, 2023. 

The text of the letter is available HERE

Senator Cortez Masto has secured billions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support wildfire risk reduction, including $8 billion for wildfire prevention, suppression, and restoration activities and $10 million for wildfire detection equipment. She is pushing her comprehensive 

Western Wildfire Support Act to fund state-of-the-art firefighting equipment, create new training programs, and support recovery efforts for communities impacted by wild and rangeland fires. Senators Cortez Masto has also prioritized efforts to provide federal agencies with the resources they need to hire and retain vital firefighters year round.