Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

With a potentially early and intense fire season on the horizon for much of California, Six Rivers National Forest and Redwood National Park announced the establishment of an interagency wildland fire management organization this week.

The "Service First" agreement between the two agencies, the departments of Agriculture and Interior, will combine the management staff of each fire organization into one, saving taxpayers money by sharing resources and making for more efficient firefighting and planning, according to fire officials.

The Six Rivers/Redwood Interagency Fire Management Organization will be led by Mike Minton, Interagency Fire Chief (formerly Six Rivers National Forest fire chief) with support from Rick Young, Deputy Interagency Fire Chief (formerly titled Redwood chief of fire management), who collectively have almost 50 years of experience.

"There is a lot of detail-oriented work that we do that will be more productively done by having a single organization address the issues," Minton said. "Setting priorities on a more local basis across a wider spectrum of our local landscape will allow us to make the best use of the resources that we have."

The interagency operation became a serious consideration when Young filled Six Rivers deputy fire chief position last summer while maintaining his role as lead fire chief with Redwood National Park, and the double-role worked well.

The interagency agreement essentially eliminates that Six Rivers deputy fire position, Young said, but there will be no net losses for either fire organization and staffing will be the same as last year.

"From a taxpayers' standpoint it make sense," Young said. "The cost savings we're going to get from this upper management position can be reinvested in firefighters and other resources closer to the fire line."

With cuts taking place on a federal level for most land management agencies, consolidating resources with an interagency operation "puts us in a better place to be able to distribute existing workloads through a wide range of staff," Minton said.

The benefits of sharing staff will be immediate, Minton said. For example, Six Rivers can no longer fund a fire ecologist position, but Redwood National Park has a fire ecologist on staff that will now be able to address issues on Six Rivers land as well.

"It keeps our decisions rooted in science by having a forest ecologist," Minton said.

Conversely, the Redwood National Park now has a reduced budget for doing prescribed burns that minimize fire risk, but now Six Rivers resources can be used to implement the burns, Minton said.

"Having a consolidated organization like this will make our money go a little farther," Minton said.

Any efficiencies are welcomed in the run-up to a fire season expected to start early and have a higher than average danger potential, according to the wildland fire potential outlook released last weekend by the National Interagency Fire Center.

Recent rainstorms in California are welcomed by fire managers, but "we would have to see an out-of-the-ordinary amount of rain for a longer duration to get back into a normal range by the time we hit June," Minton said.

The early risk is especially significant for the regional mountain ridges that are almost completely devoid of snowpack and will have a high lightning fire risk early on this season.

Usually the areas above 5,500 feet, do not have a lot of risk for large fire growth until August, but Minton said, "that terrain's susceptibility to lighting fire will happen much earlier in the season."

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