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Home / WLF TheySaid / Sinking Forest Service Ship

  • 06/06/2016
  • Ex Forest Service
  • 3,217 views
  • 20 Comments

As an Ex Forest Service employee, looking at all the madness that is taking place. Get out now while DoD, CAL FIRE, County and City Fire Departments and pretty much any State and Local Government are doing a big massive hire, to replace people who retire, promote, leave to other departments, injuries or become self employed.

The next 3-5 years the Southern R-5 Forest (Angeles, San Berdino, Cleveland, LP, and SQF) will lose a good amount just to CAL FIRE alone. Dont believe me, ask the San Bernardino National Forest as they took the biggest retention hit on how many of there loyal 5-10 year plus employees went over to CAL FIRE. Municipalities LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to hire FS people because of the good work ethic, experience and may i add, we come well trained.

The once respected Forest Service is no more, long gone, and never to return again to what it once was. Its a joke and meeting up to the name “Forest Circus”… The way the FS deals business is unimaginable. All the way from how they treat employee’s and the extremely crappy hiring practices. My old forest is practically giving away detail positions to first and second year apprentices, because they cant keep up fast enough to fill them with qualified people. If thats not a safety issue, then honestly, i dont know what is.

After my seventh year with the Forest Service i realized that, it is never going to change for the better. Its only going to get worse. Like many of you, i have seen quality employees get passed up on classes, training opportunities, fire assignments, and possible promotions. And straight out, given to other employee’s due to maybe diversity, but primarely favortism/ golden childs, and nepotism. I for one im happy that i finally got the courage and took the chance at another Department. And you know what, i absolutely love it. I should have left a long time ago. Instead of wasted time with the Forest Service.
And this thing i keep on reading about sticking together. Thats wishful thinking. An illusion that im sorry to say but, being a LONG time Forest Service guy i konw all too well that it will never happen. Because we are all scared of the possible retaliation outcome that is not suppose to happen byt ultimately will happen. My last few years with the FS i was just there to collect a pay check and that was it. If i had love for the job it wasnt because i had love for the FS but because i had love for my coworkers.

Honestly and i really really hope people in the WO and Regional Office up in Vallejo, CA see and read this. Southern California R-5 Forest Service employees are just there for a paycheck, and those who say its not true, are lying to yourselfs. Current employees are not there for the love of the job as they were before when they first got hired. That ship has sailed and is long gone. All thanks to the Tidwell’s and Randy Moore’s of the Forest Service.

May the Forest Service one day become great again, to where people passionately enjoyed going to work and not have to deal with the political drama that has now become the norm!

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20 Comments
  1. Your name...
    June 6, 2016 Reply

    Im in North Ops Region 5 and honestly I completely agree with you. Although I think our biggest issue up here is the diversity hiring. All were hiring are people from southern California who come up for a season or 2 then leave and head back down south, instead of hiring the good ol boys who were raised on a farm 5 miles from the station who know how to work. Your right though, the 2nd year apprentices who magically get GS-6 positions who don’t even know how to operate an engine is insane.

    1. Lol
      August 13, 2016 Reply

      Perhaps do several things: get outta California, get a degree, and go to BLM. And quit batching

  2. DZ
    June 6, 2016 Reply

    The USFS will never be ‘great again’ if motivated and passionate people keep jumping ship. What ever happened to trying to make it better and fighting from within for what you believe it should or could be? To being there to take care of your co-workers? Who is going to train those new folks on proper engine usage if you leave? What happened to advancing into positions of leadership in order to affect change?

    I know you’ll think it’s BS to say this, but have you ever really tried anything proactive to make it better for those around you?

    If you are just chasing the dollar signs then sure, somewhere else will probably work out better for you. If you actually want to believe in the mission of a land management agency, well then maybe that’s something else all together.

    Anonymously complaining about the senior leadership solves nothing. Name calling solves nothing. Leaving and working for another agency also solves nothing, except for yourself. Meanwhile the rest of us now have to work a little harder because someone who actually cares about fixing this mess left. Remember that when you see us walk by next time.

  3. Population Desolation
    June 6, 2016 Reply

    I’ve been with the Agency for 16 years. My jaw was left dropped to the floor after fire hire. Not because they hired the wrong people, but because management made chess moves to salvage their own program instead of giving the employee the shot at the job that they wanted. I am not a big fan of paperwork, however I think this is head to toe legit grievance worthy material. I am also aware of some side bar work that took place at the regional hiring event. It affected myself along with many colleagues up and down the state. All this frustration for GS wages. Perhaps an agency change is probably the best answer at this point.

  4. The dude
    June 6, 2016 Reply

    The R-5 Hotshot program is dead.

  5. Fruition
    June 8, 2016 Reply

    There are some things that the USFS can do to stop the bleeding when it comes to losing quality folks but it just never seems to gain enough traction.

    1. Create a wildland firefighter series and finally recognize us for the job we do.
    2. Allow seasonal time after 1989 to be purchased back by the employee that did several years as a temp but it doesn’t count towards retirement.
    3. 16 hour minimum while assigned to an incident off-forest.
    4. hazard pay on prescribed burns and hazard pay counted towards base pay in retirement calculations.
    5. Make the 10% retention bonus that we had in place permanent.

    If these 5 things or even some of these changes were implemented it would go along way in helping the ongoing R5 retention problem that we continue to face. It’s very difficult for us long time faithful and loyal FS employees to see our fellow co-workers leave to other places after we have spent a lot of time and money investing in their training and development but more importantly the bond and cohesion that was created. Some of these actions have been on bills that were initiated but never passed. I think we need to keep pushing these actions up at all levels to have a chance. With fire seasons getting longer and the weather getting hotter now is the time to effect change for the worlds largest group of wildland firefighters.

  6. Still Here
    June 9, 2016 Reply

    It seems like much of the complaints come from R-5. While I agree that fire hire hasn’t been great we are still getting quality people, and good folks are moving up in R6. Even at the district level it seems like good people are rising to the top. Diversity hiring seems less of an issue than vet priority. In aviation and shot crew good qualified people are getting jobs and moving up. Maybe try to get out of R5?

  7. DIVSX
    June 9, 2016 Reply

    Fruition nailed it with his 5. Numbers 3, 4 and 5 are critical.

    1. Create a wildland firefighter series and finally recognize us for the job we do.
    2. Allow seasonal time after 1989 to be purchased back by the employee that did several years as a temp but it doesn’t count towards retirement.
    3. 16 hour minimum while assigned to an incident off-forest.
    4. hazard pay on prescribed burns and hazard pay counted towards base pay in retirement calculations.
    5. Make the 10% retention bonus that we had in place permanent.

  8. Baby Eagle
    June 9, 2016 Reply

    I totally agree with this post , i been with the USFS for 30 yrs. taking away the retention bonus once the other agencies filled all their positiins was a dirty trick. About half way through my career i realized all the nepotism going on sround me on every firest i worked in…. This only causes problems but the FS does it anyway. I also realized the FS does not love you the way you love fighting fire. My advice is to get hired as an apprentice, get trained and converted then move up to another agency that takes care if their people. I have a guy right now that started in pay period 10 and still has not git paid ! ASC told him he probably will not get paid for 10 more days !!! This is illegal ( defacto employment) Im going to see about that tomorrow!!!
    Even Paypal knows enough to deposit a few cents in your account to be sure the transaction will go through . Now lets look at the boot stipend now… I heard the conference call where the STF ilogist called out management on the issue when he cited that boots are mandatory PPE and should be privided ! Do you think we just got that because the agency likes us ? Andwer , HELL NO ! Maybe we should look into a class action suit to get compensated for something that should have been provided all along ?

  9. soupsandwich
    June 10, 2016 Reply

    If you read through theysaid archives, this thread and it’s replies are a common topic that arises each year. It’s become as annual as RT-130. First off, I am FS Reg, R-5, SoOPS. Those facts alone will dismiss me and my credibility to many. (I know, I should leave Cali right??) Are you sure you want someone from SO Cal invading your district with my So Cal Quals, Ideas, and Ethics??? From what i’ve witnessed on here, I would have to say most people from outside SOOPS would say hell no.
    The forest service in R-5 is not only a sinking ship, it took down the whole crew while the Captain and first Mate’s took all the life rafts to safety. If you read the book the Tinder Box: How politically correct ideology destroyed the U.S. Forest Service, By Christopher Burchfield, you will learn exactly where this pattern of illegal and immoral treatment of employees began, why it continues and how you are part of the problem.
    In my opinion, most of our complaints are from non-dues paying members on Union represented forests. Many of whom claim “our union is lazy, worthless, and doesn’t do anything.” as an excuse to save themselves a few, tax deductable, dollars each pay period. These same peoples expectation is that if they were to begin paying our modest union dues, that the union would get us all a 300 percent increase in pay, portal to portal, with hazard pay, 100 percent retirement at 45 and free healthcare for life. While the Union cannot do any of those things right now, it has done many notable things in recent years that are enjoyed by all bargaining unit members and non members. Examples: boot stipend, spot tour changes, length of assignment, increase or addition of locality adjustment, access to better dental benefits (for members), just to name a few. Aside from that, our union officials are the ones who WILL have your back in the instance of the much-feared reprisal, should you be retaliated against for reporting of illegal work practices by supervisors or managers. The problem is, so many people put up with illegal treatment and work practices or simply find another job to escape, rather than speak up and know they will be protected. You silent types are the battered spouses of the FS who allow the abuse to continue for not only yourself, but everyone else. These supervisors and managers rely on people to stay quiet, to stay afraid, and let things slide, if everyone is quiet and leaves silently these people are allowed to continue to accept cash awards for performance objectives (like completion of forest/district posh training,) and to accept details and promotions without being subjected to the scrutiny and crooked politics of our R-5 fire hire. Many of our resumes are better than their own. (FAM: You leave your original on the copiers all the time, many are laughable.)
    Union and R-5 aside, if you are FS and don’t like the way you are treated
    1. Educate yourself, are you familiar with US codes and CFR codes? Th Master agreement, and the IBMH? If not, you may be allowing illegal activities to take place through lack of knowledge and when you promote, you may allow wrongdoings to continue. Seek, learn, retain and hold people accountable.
    2. If you are being subjected to illegal work practices, speak up, managers and supervisors are terrified of us, our union, and the laws that the FS has written themselves into a corner with. Supervisors and managers are pretty easy to fire and are just as replaceable as a temp. Most of them are unaware of this little fact, they are held to a higher standard and ignorance is no excuse.
    2. IF YOU LEAVE THE AGENCY, DO AN EXIT INTERVIEW, AND BE HONEST. Everyone talks about the “f you, F-you,, you’re cool..” Last day at work. Be professional and do an exit interview that is brutally honest and tasteful. Hopefully, it will not fall on deaf ears.
    3. Break the cycle. “That’s just how we’ve always done it” is not an excuse or reason to allow certain things to continue. Get angry and commit to changing things. Be the positive changer rather than the cancerous complainer. Speak up when things are wrong, at the grass roots level, if you aren’t heard or dismissed, utilize your chain of command, if that’s not working, make that dreaded call to your union stewaerd, or AQ HR and file a case, heads will roll and people will go into panic defensive mode around your district. Stop being defensive and protect yourself by fighting back.
    Go ahead, fire away with your negative comments, I can’t wait. Start a revolution, call your senator, I dare you.
    I absolutely will not go find another job just because I don’t like specific things (mostly illegal, unfair, and unjust). If you believe in leaving if you don’t like it, or have ever said it to someone else, you are the problem.

  10. Forestry Tech
    June 11, 2016 Reply

    So I think you should ask yourself why you applied for and accepted a job with the Forest Service. If it was for a firefighter job with a ready room, medical calls, high pay, never straying far from the station, you should probably pursue other agencies. The USFS was never that and shouldn’t ever be that.

    But if it was because you grew up in the woods, hunting, skiing, backpacking, fishing, kayaking, camping, and you understand the relationship between healthy forests, functioning watersheds for drinking water, and fire on the landscape, cooperating agency jobs may be pretty unsatisfying. Google agency missions for CALFIRE, LA County, Kern County, Orange County. Life safety. Rapid response, rapid suppression of fire. Spare no expense to put it out. It’s the mindset we see on interagency fires working with cooperators and that’s their mission, so it’s understandable. But it’s not always best for the land, for watersheds, or for forest health. Think excessive dozer lines, retardant runoff in streams or on scree fields in wilderness areas, firing operations that leave everything dead. We’re of course guilty of it was well and the intention here is not to point fingers or armchair quarterback.

    The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nations forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

    Water, timber, wildlife, ecological function. Think about areas you grew up hiking and camping in that have now been heavily altered by a high intensity fire or lack of fire entirely. Think about 29 million dead trees from the SQF to the TNF. Special areas becoming less than special. This is happening on our watch, during our tenure with the Forest Service. While we fight about being all risk, or that we should be paid like the Jones, we’re not prescribed burning hundreds of thousands of acres because we’re too busy with these distractions. Our areas of responsibility are falling apart, the legacy that we leave will not be like we found it.

    If you need higher pay, go. If you want to be a ropes specialist, go. If you want to be recognized as a firefighter above all else, go. But if you want to be a student of fire on the landscape, a division that pushes back to do a firing operation at night, or sees that 1 scratch line or old two track works better that 9 dozer lines, if consider what your division will look like over the years when base camp is long gone and the fire name is forgotten, maybe you should stay. If your District has potential to get a large scale prescribed fire program back on line, maybe you should stay.

    This agency has an unmatched legacy of visionaries that pushed back on private timber barons to set aside Forests for generations, that saw the need to protect watersheds from unmanaged fire. Take the torch from them and make something good happen during your time carrying it.

  11. Fire4x4
    June 11, 2016 Reply

    Soupsandwich and Forestry Tech, I have been trying to think of how I wanted to response to all of these statements. Both of you hit the nail on the head and thank you. Be the change you want to see, or move along so somebody with the desire and motivation can push for that change.

  12. Frankly Speaking
    June 11, 2016 Reply

    Get out. NorCal and SoCal are losing firefighters weekly. RO FAM is too busy putting the screws to our cooperators with there agreements to care about the forests. No new ideas. No new initiatives. Nothing. They can’t even define all hazard activities. While at the same time they sit in mare island, collecting there 120k + annual base salary. Get out.

  13. Firehiretricks
    June 11, 2016 Reply

    Yes. Some forest fire chiefs didnt even consider some people only to not disrupt module staffing. If the region wants to fire hire centralized, then they need to it all. Recommended them and select them.

  14. retired
    June 13, 2016 Reply

    In between the R5 Fire Director photo ops, which seems to be her only job, ask her about retention.

  15. Soupsandwich
    June 13, 2016 Reply

    The retention problem is this. RO FAM doesn’t see a retention problem because they never see the firefighters do anything more than a body, a box that is checked that says the org chart is filled, and a number. When a firefighter leaves, they see a hole in the org chart that can always be filled. Not only can it be filled, it can be filled by a person meeting a targeted demographic or special interest. Good firefighters leaving is pretty much much viewed as a positive as the newly up and coming tend to keep quit and not speak up. Not only that. Why pay a GS employee with multiple steps, when you can pay a newly appointed GS employee with less steps, to fill that same org chart position. The left over money goes into the forest “waste” fund and is exhausted to hire some intern summer oligist type of some sort. In regards to asking director Legarza anything, she wouldnt per on us if we were all on fire. She won’t answer questions pertaining to retention. Randy skips over them as well as miss Jeanne wade Evans. Their PD’s don’t say that they have to answer to or take care of Firefighters, so why would they, it doesn’t help with their cash awards or performance evaluation that will push them to the WO

  16. Soupnailedit
    June 13, 2016 Reply

    Soup Nailed It!

    Keep it up all. Maybe wildlandfire.com – theysaid is back. This is where it all began a little over 8 years ago. Keep it up all. Be heard, Be Proud!

  17. Brush Hog
    June 13, 2016 Reply

    Thank you Forestry Tech.
    I can empathize that it sucks to be part of a dysfunctional organization that is failing from the top down, but I also share the feeling that those who stick it out in the USFS are going to be the ones that make real change in the way that we manage fire on the landscape. I agree, if you want to be part of the war on nature, go work somewhere with red trucks. If you have a personal commitment to seeing more good fire on the land, the USFS needs your help.

  18. ofg
    June 14, 2016 Reply

    The FS has always been a multiple use conservation management agency. It also has a long history of managing social programs. CCC, YCC, YACC, CETA, Job Corps and a host of others.
    Historically, the “rangers” it hired came from a love of the outdoors background. They “did it all” including timber management, trails, range, wildlife, and of course, fire. Up until the 80’s most were signing up for a lifetime career. At one time, new hires were informed that promotion opportunities were improved by mobility. The FS was a “family”, everyone on a first name basis, including the chief.
    With the hire of “specialists” and de-emphasis of breadth of experience, the agency began to change. Focus on one program only led to blinders on employees as to the big picture and mission of the agency. Some employees believed they were hired to “save the forests from the forest service” and fought against the multiple use mission. Others came to believe their program was/is an “elite” component, and those working in the program deserved special attention, special treatment and special pay. They are not concerned about the other programs, overall mission or co-workers. Some even want to establish their program as a separate agency with single purpose mission. Again, their lack of perspective keeps them from seeing that such an action would be detrimental to the FS agency mission, and is impractical for their own program.
    There used to be a maxim in the west that said “If you can’t ride for the brand, pack your gear and move on”. Sound advice.
    Do not interpret any of this as advocating the acceptance of unfair labor practices or discrimination. That should be fought at every level by every employee. Just realize that denial of special treatment is not an unfair practice.

  19. Smokey307
    July 11, 2016 Reply

    I worked as a temp USFS employee from 1966 to 1971. I started as a IHC crewman just out of high school and ended as a helitack foreman who just graduated with a BS in Forestry. While I did have other fire jobs, my career plans were disrupted by several things including the draft. The USFS was a good outfit to work for in those days. I enjoyed fire and intended to remain in fire as a tech and eventually promote and land a permanent position. My AFMO told me I probably wouldn’t land a permanent fire position because I had bad eyesight. However, he told me that if I earned a BS in Forestry my eyesight wouldn’t be a problem.

    As a firefighter my focus was simply on fire. When I graduated I embraced multiple use management and sustained use. I was taught that recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife were the five types of management. The mix of these on each each forest was different and we were to manage to the highest value. Some forests didn’t have all of these management. The Angeles NF did not have any timber to speak of to manage nor did it have any range land. The ANF was next to a population of 300,000,000 who needed water and needed to get away from the pressure cooker for a while.

    Watershed and recreation management emerged as the highest land uses of the ANF and to a lesser extent wildlife management. Water use controlled pretty much everything in LA county for the entire 20th century and the recreation demand in the last half of the 20th century strained ANF resources. Where does fire management come in you may ask? I would say fire management is a necessary servant to watershed and recreation management. Year after year we see large fires are followed by large scale runoff and flooding. Effective fire management is the main tool used in watershed management and one of several tools used in recreation management. Fire probably takes the lion’s share of the budget, but it should never be seen as more than a tool for effective land management. In the earliest years of the USFS, GP’s men were sent out West to map and manage the national forests on their own. We can’t begin to imagine the hardships they faced. Yet they had the vision and commitment to keep going. I think the only way, in addition to treating staff right, to regain that dedication again is to couple fire management to the resource management objective it serves. This needs to begin on an employee’s first day and continue through his/her career.

    On a personal note, it pains me to read that the USFS is not taking good care of its staff. It doesn’t have to be that way. I will say that the media talks about the violence and partisanship that is afoot in our land and there appears to reflect a growing hatred between folks. I am sad that I wasn’t able to continue my USFS career on the ANF for personal and family reasons. It’s important to recognize and correct management wrongs. I encourage you to join and lend strength to your union in order to do that. I have less sympathy for those who complain but don’t do anything.

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