More money, more jobs for firefighters this season

An increased budget for fire management and prevention could spell more jobs with the Forest Service this season, and that could be good news for the increased number of applicants from the reservations.

Before leaving office, former President Bill Clinton approved $1.9 billion for fire prevention and recovery efforts. The move followed one of the most disastrous fire seasons on record. According to Eleanor Towns, Southwest Regional Forester, Arizona and New Mexico will see $123 million to battle blazes and undertake recovery projects this year.

Coconino National Forest itself will see a 98% increase in its budget, most of which will be used for firefighting. According to Karen Malis-Clark, public information officer, the Coconino agency will hire 10-20 more positions this year over last.

Local efforts to recruit Native Americans have also been stepped up for the upcoming season.

Julia Yazzie, the Special Emphasis Program Manager for the Coconino National Forest, said that there has been a problem with getting Native American recruits in the past because of the “digital divide.” The lack of technology and computers, combined with the reservations’ remoteness, has made it difficult to get the word out about Forest Service jobs.

“There are a lot of talented firefighters out there, with the tribes and the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], and we wanted to give them a chance to apply with the Forest Service.”

Yazzie said she and several other employees volunteered to make site visits to Tuba City, Keams Canyon and Ft. Defiance to disseminate information and help people complete the sometimes daunting government application. So far, the site visits have been tremendously successful.

“So far, we helped 70 applicants,” she said, adding that they have one more site visit planned to Ft. Defiance on Feb. 15. The National Forest employees explain the applications, help applicants determine which positions they are eligible for and assist with general questions.

Yazzie explained that the Forest Service has three rounds of hiring, and those who apply early have a better chance of making the cut. “In the first round, some applicants are missing information or have errors in their applications, but that can be corrected.”

The Forest Service sends cards to their applicants, letting them know why they were not hired. If there is incomplete or inaccurate information, applicants have the chance to fix the errors before the next round of hiring. Although the first round of hiring has officially ended, people can still apply, said Yazzie. The deadline for applications is Feb. 28 for the second round and April 23 for the third round.

With the success of the program, said Yazzie, the Forest Service hopes to start making these site visits an annual event. “It has really increased the number of people who apply,” she said.

The increasing number of applicants has drawn attention to the program. Robin Nimura, Director of Civil Rights with the Forest Service, estimates that 1,000 people have applied for Forest Service jobs this year. Out of those candidates, about 10% are Native American. “The Southwest Region is looking very good,” he said. “If you want to brag on somebody, you can brag on the Coconino National Forest employees, who visited several different locations in Northeastern Arizona. They have done an impressive job.”

But Coconino National Forest has not worked alone, said Yazzie. They have worked cooperatively with the Kaibab National Forest, and with the Hopi agencies, Western Navajo Agency and the BIA Branch of Forestry.

Forest Service officials hope that the increased funding and employment level will help reduce the risk of another catastrophic wildfire season. Says Jim Golden, Coconino National Forest Supervisor, “We will be able to accomplish so many projects vital to protecting our communities and restoring forest health with the money that Congress has allocated to us, and it will be more important than ever for us to work with our partners to achieve the goals necessary to protect the lands important to all of us.”

Coconino National Forest representatives will be in Ft. Defiance on Feb. 15 at the BIA/Branch of Forestry Building on Rt. 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p .m. If you are unable to attend, you may request an application at your local Forest Service Office or from USDA Forest Service, Automated Staffing Application Program, 1249 S. Vinnell Way, Suite #108, Boise, ID 83709, 1-877-813-3476, www.fs.fed.us/fsjobs, e-mail fsjobs@fs.fed.us. For more information, call Julia Yazzie at (520) 527-3481 or Leona Pooyouma at (520) 527-3586.

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