ARLINGTON, Va. – The Student Conservation Association (SCA) today announced that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will award the organization $12 million over the next five years to launch a Wildland Fire Academy Program. The Academy is designed to strengthen the Forest Service’s capacity to confront the current climate-driven wildfire crisis by creating a pipeline of trained wildland firefighters and fuels staff.
“Our partnership with the U.S. Forest Service could not come at a more critical time, especially with the ongoing Canadian wildfires coupled with their intense smoke impacting major portions of the United States,” said SCA President and CEO Lidia Soto-Harmon. “As temperatures rise, so does the chance for more wildfires because of an increase of hot, dry conditions, which also means all hands on deck. Together, we can help address this intensifying wildfire crisis brought on by climate change.”
The SCA and Forest Service will launch the inaugural Wildland Fire Academy Pilot Program in Fall 2023, beginning with three fuels crews to help mitigate dangerous wildfires. These SCA crews of four will work alongside members of the Forest Service and are responsible for vegetation management, including hazardous fuels reduction and restoration.
“This exciting partnership will allow us to increase capacity in support of the Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy and to provide hands-on experience and training opportunities for the next generation of public land stewards. This program will give participants valuable qualifications and a pathway towards careers in the Forest Service and the federal government,” said USFS Senior Executive of Intergovernmental Relations Brian Ferebee.
During a wildland fire, varying plant materials can act as fuel, including grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves and fallen pine needles. As these burnable materials pile up, so do the chances of catastrophic wildland fire. In the right conditions, excess fuel allows fires to burn hotter, larger, longer and faster, making them more difficult and dangerous to manage, making it essential to have trained wildland firefighters and fuels staff at the ready.
The Forest Service has been managing wildland fire on National Forests and Grasslands for more than 100 years. As the wildland fire management environment has changed, there are now longer fire seasons, bigger fires, extreme fire behavior and more fires closer to residential areas.
By joining forces, both the SCA and the Forest Service hope to increase the number of women and people of color entering the field while also increasing the overall amount of trained wildland firefighters and fuels staff entering the profession. To help with the effort, the SCA and the Forest Service teamed up earlier this year to launch a Women’s Wildland Fire Crew based out of Clemson, South Carolina, that included three Forest Service fire leaders who mentored SCA interns. The crew worked and traveled throughout the Southern Region, gaining hands-on experience in prescribed fire, hazardous fuels reduction and fire suppression alongside the Forest Service firefighters.
Last year, the SCA engaged more than 2,000 youth and young adults across the country through hands-on environmental conservation programs that collectively provided nearly 1 million hours of service at federal, state, and local parks and natural areas. SCA participants increased the nation’s climate resiliency, reduced wildfire risks, enhanced equity and environmental justice, strengthened urban communities, implemented historic preservation initiatives and retired backlogged maintenance projects.