Fire Reduction, Response, and Restoration Careers are the Path Forward
Since 2018, over 10 million acres of forested lands in California have burned. Forested, rural communities have been decimated by record-breaking wildfires accelerated by climate change. In 2021, record-breaking wildfires destroyed multiple communities and 2.5 million acres and experts estimate the 2018 Camp Fire alone cost California $9.3 billion.
Wildfires also affect the health and safety of communities outside of wildfire-prone areas, including urban centers, with reduced air quality and increased health issues. In response, public safety and ecology experts have charged the forestry workforce to treat one million acres of forested land annually to mitigate future wildfires and respond to growing climate change needs.
However, the forestry workforce supply is not meeting employer demand, which has led industry experts and leaders to call for action.
Skilled workers are the linchpin to addressing the economic and climate crises in California’s forested, rural communities. Building the forestry and fire-safety sectors could contribute approximately $39 billion in forestry-products and fire-resiliency industries and add 177,000 jobs to the California workforce.
California has 20% of all net worth concentrated in the 30 wealthiest zip codes; yet forested, rural regions suffer with median incomes significantly below the state. 20 percent of the population in the Sierra Nevada region are already living below the poverty line and 11 percent of the region’s educated or trained workers are unemployed. With these communities doubly impacted by the pandemic, workers need support to get into quality jobs now.
The following table provides the current employment and income statuses of various industries in need of strengthening and enhancement:
December 2021 Industry Employment and Median Income by Industry
Median Industry Income
Forestry and logging
Wood biomass electricity
Solid wood product manufacturing
Pulp and paper manufacturing
Wood furniture manufacturing
Utility arborists and assessors
While these positions are in-demand, there remains a gap between the open positions and workforce supply of skilled labor. Four of the top challenges for these sectors include:
- Lack of on-the-job training, specifically related to management and operations
- A disproportionately large amount of personnel within the sector are reaching retirement age
- Negative perceptions of the industry among young people
- Reaching underserved populations with labor market barriers
The emerging climate-resilient landscapes sector has the potential to grow into a $39 billion industry with 177,000 jobs in California. There are projected shortages of 6,000 fire managers, 4,000 conservation scientists and foresters, 7,000 loggers, and 1,500 utility line clearance technicians, all of which are well-paying jobs with benefits. The magnitude and urgency of the need for skilled workers and the potential for growth calls for disruptive innovation in how workforce training programs collaborate with industry.
Here at Sierra Business Council, we support strategically coordinating and expanding forestry and fire-safety training programs in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade regions of northeastern California. We can achieve this by:
- Making public-private partnerships possible
- Leveraging resources to meet Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy goals and California’s High Road Training Partnership Framework
- Equitably catalyzing outreach, training, and placement, specifically reaching adults with barriers to employment, such as: English-language learners, Hispanic/Latinx, Indigenous, low income workers, veterans, and women
This is a generation-changing moment to place skilled workers in quality, demand-driven jobs that will rebuild communities and promote economic recovery and resilience.
Increasing California’s workforce capacity will both meet employer demand and mitigate the climate crisis. Our long-term goal is to professionalize careers that safeguard the health of forests, reduce wildfire risk, and trigger innovations in environmental restoration, while directly benefiting underserved Californians by providing pathways into high-demand, high quality forestry and conservation careers.
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