Stanislaus National Forest to host hiring event Tuesday in Sonora … – Union Democrat

Stanislaus National Forest to host hiring event Tuesday in Sonora … – Union Democrat

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Clear skies. Low 34F. Winds light and variable..
Clear skies. Low 34F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: January 24, 2023 @ 4:30 pm

The U.S. Forest Service has more than 120 fire-related job openings in the Stanislaus National Forest, paying from $15 to more than $35 per hour, and the agency will host an in-person application-assistance and hiring event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday at 19777 Greenley Road in Sonora.
The job openings represent all aspects of the forest’s fire operations, from basic, boots-on-the-ground wildland firefighters, who start at $14.38 and can earn up to $18.06 per hour; to fuels managers, who start at $27.07 per hour; and assistant forest fuels manager, who start at $39.69 per hour, Forest Service spokesman Benjamin Cossell said Monday.
Under the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, all firefighters will receive a minimum of $15 an hour, Cossell said. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture have until Oct. 1 to codify that into the wildland firefighter pay scale. Until then, any firefighter below the $15 level will receive a supplemental bonus payment to bring them to that level.
Effective Jan. 1, the minimum wage in California is supposed to be $15.50 per hour for all employers. The forest will also have vacancies in dispatch and fire prevention, Cossell said. 
Current fire-related staffing for the forest totals more than 140 fire and aviation personnel, which is normal for this time of year, Cossell said. The key is gearing up for the 2023 fire season this spring, summer, and fall, when the forest hopes to have a full contingent of 257 fire and aviation personnel.
Coming off a historic multi-week wet spell earlier this month, right now is nowhere near fire season in the Stanislaus National Forest or anywhere else in the Central Sierra. 
A five-station index including Calaveras Big Trees and Hetch Hetchy showed watersheds of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties had received 33.6 inches of precipitation since the current water year began Oct. 1 — 188% of average for the date Jan. 23.
Also as of Monday, Central Sierra snowpack had 52 sensors showing average snow water equivalence of 35.4 inches, 230% of normal for the date Jan. 23 and 130% of the April 1 average. Some hydrologists and other water scientists estimated earlier this month the Golden State snowpack is now at a 20-year high.
Wet winters can always mean loads of new fuels for the next fire season. The Forest Service is getting an early start on hiring for later this year because the agency has learned from recent experience. 
In July 2021, fire season was in full swing and Stanislaus National Forest had just 75% of its full contingent for fire staffing, in part because other fire agencies offered better pay and benefits than the Forest Service.
That’s still the case a year-and-a-half later. Wildland firefighters with Cal Fire can earn $26 per hour and up, and firefighter-paramedics can start at $37 per hour.
The Forest Service is learning how to do more with less. In July 2021, the agency staged fire militia training in the North Fork Tuolumne River watershed near Long Barn for Stanislaus National Forest employees like wildlife biologists, wilderness rangers, and recreation specialists to train with forest fire crews and complete basic training — in case the non-fire personnel were needed to support firefighting efforts that summer.
In spite of lower pay for some starting fire-related jobs, the Forest Service appeals to a lot of entry-level workers seeking experience because it has a lower bar to entry than a lot of other fire agencies, Brandon Hull, the Stanislaus Hotshots superintendent, said in an email Monday.
“This is where people come to get those one or two years of experience before moving on to a different outfit,” Hull said. “When it says U.S. Forest Service on your resume, there’s a known pedigree that goes along with that — departments know you can work in a team environment and that within that individual there is a certain level of commitment, and dedication to duty.”
No state agency in California can offer new hires the ability to fight fires across the nation, in different fuel types and environments, Hull said.
Entry-level firefighters can also step up to the hotshot crews “if they really want to challenge themselves and prove who they are,” Hull said. “The Hotshots are THE special forces of the firefighting world. This is where you learn who you are, what you’re made of and often in the most rugged of environments. Much like military special forces, this isn’t for everyone, and hotshot crews don’t want just anyone, you’ve got to earn your spot on a hotshot crew. If you think you’ve got what it takes, there’s no better place to find out that answer.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit nationwide about three years ago in March 2020. Pandemic restrictions changed the ways many people look for new jobs, and it’s still changing the ways the Forest Service goes about hiring new recruits.
For the first time in quite a while, we are attempting to add a relatively large number of staff,” Jason Kuiken, the Stanislaus National Forest supervisor, said Monday. “Therefore we are working hard to understand what the hiring challenges are and overcome them. Without a doubt, hiring has become more challenging.”
Locally for the Stanislaus National Forest, Kuiken and his hiring managers face a series of headwinds including availability of affordable housing; competition for limited resources from various state and federal agencies; a workforce that is exhausted after several years of beyond normal fire conditions; and connecting with a population “not as drawn to rural living as in years past,” Kuiken said.
The Stanislaus National Forest remains committed to utilizing every tool in its chest to plug staffing gaps, Kuiken said. He and his staff are encouraged by recent advancements made to address wildland firefighter pay, mental health and quality of life concerns.
Regionwide, the Forest Service is looking to hire as many as 400 firefighters up and down the state, Cossell said. Tuesday’s hiring event in Sonora is strictly for firefighting jobs, in support of two other hiring events Tuesday and Wednesday in Fresno, and Feb. 14-15 in Redding. 
The Sonora event is for people who can’t get to Fresno or Redding, Cossell said.
“The USAJOBS portal can be difficult,” Cossell said. “We’ll help you navigate.”
The Stanislaus National Forest has openings for 71 permanent positions, 42 temporary positions, and nine seasonal positions, Cossell said. At least five forest staff are assigned to the Tuesday hiring event and the forest can add more staff if a lot of potential recruits show up in person.
Applicants who go to the Forest Supervisor’s Office at 19777 Greenley Road today should bring their own smartphones, tablets, laptops, or other portable computer devices with them. Fire staff will be on hand to walk individuals through the application process and navigate the USAJobs interface.
Jobs will be posted on USAJOBS.gov using the direct hire authority. Employment start dates may vary. Applicants do not need to attend any of the hiring events to apply.
The Stanislaus National Forest was created 126 years ago in February 1897. The Forest Service is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
For more information contact Clint Gould, the Stanislaus National Forest assistant fire management officer, at (209) 288-6242 or (209) 283-4558, or visit https://bit.ly/3GUqiOI.
Contact Guy McCarthy at [email protected] or (209) 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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