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Sat, Dec. 07

Forest Service jobs in danger<br>

In the last fiscal cycle, federal funding for many domestic programs — including the U.S. Forest Service — was drastically cut. Realizing the hard road ahead, officials at the Kaibab National Forest started working in August 2004 to determine how and where to cut back.

KNF Spokesperson Cathie Schmidlin says numerous ideas and plans were examined on how best to deal with the budget crunch without affecting workers.

“First and foremost is a concern for employees,” Schmidlin states.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Though KNF personnel scaled back on many programs, federal budget cuts were too big and now 10-15 middle-management employees, often called branch leaders, will have to either be transferred to other positions, or seek work elsewhere.

Schmidlin says KNF officials will know in about one week exactly whose jobs are in jeopardy, but that actual layoffs or transfers won’t happen overnight. The shift will take place within one to two years, and in that time KNF officials will assist displaced employees by either moving them to another position if one becomes available through retirement or attrition, watching for job openings with other national forest offices — such as Prescott or Coconino — or helping with job placement within the private sector.

“It would be a matter of working with our other forest agencies to see if we can place them there,” Schmidlin said. “I don’t think the intention is to move into this too quickly.”

She adds that forest health remains a priority. Forest thinning, prescribed and pile burning will continue through a shift of funding resources from recreational programs. Already, the KNF partly relies on volunteers in some areas to help man campgrounds and assist with other recreational duties.

“There are changes coming, and we have to prepare ourselves,” Schmidlin said.

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