Currently — May 13th, 2022

What you need to know, currently.

The New York Times published a piece last week on the challenges of conducting prescribed burns as climate change exacerbates wildfire season. Indigenous people have been practicing controlled burns for thousands of years as a way to care for the land—a controlled burn regenerates the forest and clears underbrush, which acts as kindling for the most destructive wildfires. The Forest Service has struggled to hire enough wildland firefighters in recent years, however, which means they have fewer trained staff to implement prescribed burns.

Part of the labor shortage likely has to do with the terms of the job. Wildland firefighters are generally classified as seasonal employees, let go in the off season, and lose their health insurance; while the pay may be decent, it’s not enough to make up for the loss of benefits. California tries to manage this shortage by bringing in prisoners to fight wildfires, paying them what effectively amounts to slave wages.

One wildland firefighter, Soledad Espinoza, told The Marshall Project that she was paid $1 an hour, but because she was paying restitution her wages ultimately amounted to about 45 cents an hour. Until last year, anyone with a felony record could not become a firefighter in the state of California — even if they had spent years on the job while incarcerated. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows workers to petition to have their felony records expunged, but it’s still slow, time-consuming, and unnecessarily punitive.