Irva Hertz-Picciotto Joins Wildland Fire Policy Generator and Urges the Federal Government to Expand Corps Programs

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Irva Hertz-Picciotto Joins Wildland Fire Policy Generator and Urges the Federal Government to Expand Corps Programs

In 2022, Irva Hertz-Piccioto was invited to participate in the Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator, organized by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). This program brings together people from multiple areas of expertise to develop actionable policy ideas to improve our coexistence with fire. It is FAS’s response to the  Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission (WFMMC), which the U.S. President tasked with creating federal policy and strategy for proactively managing and recovering from wildfires. On March 21st, Dr. Hertz-Picciotto presented her policy brief to the Commission to call for massively expanding corps programs for wildfire mitigation and healthy forests, emphasizing job training for youth.

The full text of Dr. Hertz-Picciotto’s address is reprinted below:

Dead and sick trees and thick vegetative debris in our forests are fueling megafires and magnifying their frequency, intensity, and destructiveness. Fire suppression alone has cost the U.S. between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion annually since 2012. Suppression costs amount to only a small fraction of the full costs of wildfire, which include economic, infrastructure, ecosystem, health and other costs. Fixing this problem will require restoring forest health throughout the country through a massive increase in the wildland firefighting workforce, particularly those trained in mitigation and resilience.

To address the growing wildfire challenge and engage youth in wildland fire careers, Congress and federal fire agencies should expand on and better leverage the Corps program model across the United States.

Investments in a workforce prepared to address the nation’s wildland fire challenges are already underway. For example, the DOI Office of Wildland Fire and the US Department of Agriculture are using funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support a “more permanent workforce capable of fire response and mitigation work on a year-round basis.” Professionalizing the wildland fire workforce to address longer fire seasons and preparing these workers to support mitigation efforts is critical to building a more resilient landscape. However, this alone is not sufficient to meet the magnitude of our forest health problem.

Corps programs can supplement and complement the development of this more permanent workforce and simultaneously accelerate the pace of hazardous fuels reduction on the ground. Across the country, they are already doing so; for example, the California Conservation Corps’ Forestry Corps (which partners with the US Forest Service) focuses on removing overgrown and dead vegetation as part of wildfire mitigation on state lands. Members receive relevant certifications to prepare them for careers in forestry. AmeriCorps has also supported wildland fire mitigation activities in several regions of the country, including through employing veterans, and provides environmental stewardship opportunities across the US.

Given the enormity of the need and the urgency of reducing hazardous fuels, federal agencies can and should expand support for these models across the nation. Partnerships with state agencies, nonprofit, and community organizations can be leveraged to make these programs more wide-ranging and cost-effective. Expanding these programs will accomplish three core goals: 1) reduce buildup of hazardous fuels 2) broaden the pool of qualified applicants for jobs in federal and state wildland fire management and mitigation and 3) enrich the lives of youth by providing them with hands-on service experiences making a difference for the environment and health.


We recommend that Congress:

  • Pass legislation that will restore forest health and resilience by allocating funds to expand existing wildland fire mitigation service programs involving partnerships with state, Tribal, territorial, private, non-profit and other entities. These Corps should be modeled after existing successful Corps programs and provide a pathway to more permanent employment, e.g., in wildland fire management.

We recommend that the USFS, AmeriCorps, and DOI work together to:

  • Conduct analyses to determine where existing programs (e.g., AmeriCorps’ Environmental Stewardship programs) could be expanded in geography, scope, and partnerships with states, Tribal and community entities to meet the growing wildland fire mitigation needs. This analysis should include a) scaling up jobs directly carrying out fuel reduction and mitigation activities, as well as b) creating opportunities to prepare participants for careers that provide needed support for those activities, (e.g., strategic and regulatory planning, biomass use coordination).
  • Establish principles and processes for prioritizing support for hazardous fuel mitigation corps programs in geographies, forest types, and human communities of greatest need, with flexibility and regular re-evaluation of priorities.
  • Build and expand  sufficiently long (9-24 months) programs, wherein training can be provided in multiple fuel reduction methods including prescribed burns; removal of dead vegetation; and hand- or mechanical-thinning of small or mid-sized trees. Consider expanding existing apprenticeship programs through the Forest Service.
  • For all federally supported Corps programs pertaining to wildland fire, incorporate training in Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and practices that are based on centuries of experience with fire in a wide variety of ecosystems across the country.
  • Enlist persons ages 18 and over, with focused recruitment for youth from underserved communities. Provide education and hands-on training in forest management, intentional fire, use of equipment, and workplace health and safety.
  • Provide personal protective equipment to minimize injuries and training in proper use, as well as food, tents or structures for shelter, equipment, and medical care including transport. Corps members’ compensation should be a minimum of $2500 per month.  
  • To ensure strong recruitment goals are met, enlist communications and marketing specialists. An adaptive approach should develop strategies that take into account particular needs of today’s generation, e.g., for internet connectivity.  Develop new networks, such as community colleges and professional schools, to attract a broad range of participants with diverse skills and interests.

Expanded Corps program will dramatically reduce destructive megafires and associated evacuations, provide cleaner air to breathe, and restore forest health across the nation.

It also will endow a generation of youth with new skills preparing them for quality jobs, as well as a meaningful connection to nature, improved morale and mental health, and a brighter future.

Irva Hertz-Piccotto (Thumbnail)

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, MPH, is an environmental epidemiologist committed to furthering our understanding of how specific exposures and global climate or planetary changes harm health. Dr. Hertz-Picciotto is the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center director. To read more about her work, visit her profile


Julianne Ng

Julianne Ng is an undergraduate student at UC Davis studying Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning and intends to minor in Technology Management. Julianne has recently joined the EHSC team as a summer 2023 student assistant. Within this role, she writes blogs delving into various EHSC projects, assists with the Pilot Projects Program, and contributes to social media analytics efforts.