United States Forest Service (CA)
U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region (R5) Description and Radio Systems Information
DESCRIPTION OF THE REGION
The Pacific Southwest Region covers most of California with the following exceptions: the California portions of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, on the Carson and Bridgeport Ranger Districts located in the Intermountain Region (R4) at the eastern boundary of California and two small portions of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in the Pacific Northwest Region (R6) at the northern boundary of California north of the Klamath River. A portion of the Klamath National Forest (Region 5) extends into Oregon in one location west of Interstate 5, west of Ashland, Oregon. R5 extends into Nevada in two places, first the Nevada portion of the Inyo National Forest north of Bishop and the eastern portion of the Lake Tahoe Basin on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit west of Carson City and Reno, Nevada.
The Pacific Southwest Region of the US Forest Service manages 20 million acres of National Forest land in California and assists the State and Private forest landowners in California, Hawaii and the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands. Eighteen national forests are located in this region, in the North Coast, Cascade, and Sierra Nevada ranges and from Big Sur to the Mexican border in the south Coast range.
The workload of Region 5 is heavy and complex. Its fire management program is well known, with approximately 50% of the U.S. Forest Service budget for fire management being spent in the region. The total budget for wildland fire management by all fire agencies in California is more than the rest of the United States combined. Southern California has the most wildland-urban interface land area of any locality in the U.S. and California has more wildland-urban interface than any other state. The interrelationship and juxtaposition of direct protection areas for the federal, state, county and municipal fire agencies is exceedingly complex in California, not because of land ownership patterns alone, but because of the presence of some of the most volatile vegetation in the world. National Forests contain 6 million of the total 9 million acres of highly volatile brushland in California. It is found mainly in the foothill country where urban expansion is increasing and many developments lack adequate protection against wildfire. Large areas of the state are covered with heavy chaparral, which includes drought resistant, evergreen bush species that contain an oil like sap that is explosive. It is prone to "area ignition," where large areas of fuel ignite like a pool of gasoline. The climate is a huge factor and the lower elevations of California are characterized as a "Mediterranean Climate," with relatively mild winters with hot, dry and long summers.
Forest conditions, especially in Southern California and the Sierra Nevada, are of particular concern in Region 5. Dense and overgrown areas combined with the influx of people into California’s wildlands have created the potential for disastrous wildfires. Emphasis is being placed on actively managing forests by reducing dangerous accumulations of hazardous fuels to protect people, watersheds, and habitat
California is the most populous U.S state, estimated to be 38 million people in 2014. More money is spent on tourism in California than any other state. Public land recreation use is very heavy, the most for any state in the western U.S. The state has the most human caused fires of any in the country, averaging close to 7,400 per year. The state has the most homes, over 3.8 million, in wildland-urban interface areas than any other state. From the standpoint of property damage the most destructive fire in U.S. history occurred in California in 1991. The Oakland Hills fire only burned 1,520 acres, but destroyed 3,354 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium buildings. Casualties included 25 fatalities and 150 injuries. The economic loss has been estimated at $1.5 billion (2.5 billion in 2012 dollars). In terms of economic loss, 7 of the top 10 fires in U.S. history have occurred in California. Unfortunately, 31% (330) of the wildland firefighter fatalities (1075) in modern U.S. history (1911 to present) have occurred in California, the most of any state. There are 10 Geographical Area Coordination Centers (GACCs) in the U.S. and the workload in California is great enough that two of them exist in the state, Operations Northern California and Operations Southern California.
Fire management is not alone in the region's heavy workload. The other functions of the agency face heavy pressure as well. California is the nation's most populous state and outdoor, public land based, recreation is heavy. Of the Forest Service's 9 regions, 25% of the recreation on National Forest land in the U.S. occurs in R5. National Forests are the home to about half of the public wildland recreation in the state. National Parks and other federal, state, county and private lands provide the remainder. This volume of visitor use necessitates a large law enforcement program, with more Forest Service law enforcement officers per National Forest than any region. In addition to fire management, recreation and law enforcement, National Forests manage timber, grazing, watershed (protection and use), wildlife (includes fisheries), soils, roads and trails, facilities (ranger stations, fire stations, lookouts and communication sites), minerals (exploration and extraction) as well as land use (exchanges, purchases and special uses). The workload and complexity of managing these varies by National Forest due to differences in location, topography, vegetation, precipitation, proximity to urban areas, etc. In California management of watersheds, roads and trails, facilities and land use management have the highest or close to the highest workload of any Forest Service region.
Watershed management on National Forest land is extraordinarily important to the economy of the state and to food supply in the U.S. and abroad. California produces more than 400 crops. Of those, the following are commercially produced only in California: almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwifruit, olives, clingstone peaches, pistachios, dried plums, pomegranates, sweet rice, ladino clover seed, and walnuts. California grows nearly half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. California is the nation’s top agricultural state, and has been for more than 50 years. Agriculture
generates approximately $37.5 billion a year, more than any other state. Surface water run-off in California averages 71 million acre-feet per year. Annual water use is about 37 million acre-feet, of which 80 percent is used to irrigate crops. National forests supply 50 percent of the water in California, include the watersheds of most major aqueducts and more than 2,400 of the reservoirs throughout the state. Managing watershed to insure high quality water is a major focus of the U.S. Forest Service and saves billions of dollars in potential construction and maintenance costs for water treatment plants. Contributing half of the water for agricultural production in California is a major benefit of watershed management on National Forest land.
Other Resource Management Programs
Special Uses: the large population and National Forests in proximity of urban areas creates a heavy demand for a variety of uses of these federal lands. These are the uses that don't fit into the major uses of National Forest land, those being timber, range, watershed, recreation and wildlife. Often these diverse needs require specific approval. Special uses are diverse and are too numerous to list here. Examples are water storage, water transmission, powerlines, outfitting and guiding, recreation; special events such as foot and bicycle races, large gatherings of people such as weddings, social gatherings or reunions, religious groups, or large youth encampments, such as Boy and Girl Scouts; organizational camps, ski areas, telecommunications (including electronic sites), research including permanent facilities such as the Barcroft Lab in the White Mountains on the Inyo National Forest, photography, video productions, the filming of major movies, gathering forest products such as mistletoe and pine cones (large quantities not for personal use) and granting road and utility rights-of-ways.
Lands & Real Estate: with the high demand for recreation, existence of some special areas in private ownership within National Forest boundaries and other resources on National Forest land, the region has a very active lands & real estate program. This program is tasked with the following: purchasing land to protect critical resource areas and provide increased public recreation opportunities, exchanging and conveying lands to achieve a desired national forest landownership pattern that supports forest land and resource goals and objectives, conveying administrative sites to allow the agency to realign and enhance its asset portfolio, surveying national forest boundaries to identify and protect private and public lands, determining the market value of lands purchased, exchanged, or conveyed, accepting donations of land to protect archeological or historical sites; maintaining records of national forest land areas, land transactions, land status, permitted uses, and easements; and securing public road and trail access to existing national forest system lands.
Wildlife & Plants: more than 600 of the 800 species of fish and wildlife in California inhabit the national forests, making the Forest Service the single largest habitat manager in the state. National forests are also home to nearly 4,000 of the 6,500 native plants in California. National Forest land comprises the bulk of wildlife habitat in many states, especially for large mammals and threatened and endangered species. A high population has led to the loss of habitat in much of the state, putting additional pressure on the habitat of public land. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has jurisdiction of the animal and the hunting or fishing of it. The U.S. Forest Service has jurisdiction of the habitat or homes of the animal. This requires close cooperation between these agencies.
Range: the United States has about 770 million acres of rangelands. Private individuals own more than half of the Nation's rangelands. The federal government manages 43 percent of the rangelands. State and local governments manage the remainder. The Forest Service administers approximately 193 million acres of National Forest Systems lands. About half of this acreage, 96 million acres, is rangelands. The Forest Service has undergone many changes in its management of rangelands. In the early 1800s, free forage on unclaimed public domain lands allowed the building of cattle and sheep empires. The ranges soon became over-grazed, overstocked, and overcrowded. Congress stepped in the early 1900s and designated the Forest Service as the pioneer grazing control agency. By 1906 to 1907, the Forest Service had established its system of range regulation. This includes permits, limits on herd size, grazing seasons, allotments, and rental fees. Heavy recreation use results in conflicts between grazing permittees and visitors, an issue that is not as prominent in other regions.
Forest (AKA vegetation or timber) Management: the overriding objective of the Forest Service's forest management program is to ensure that the National Forests are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner. The National Forests were originally envisioned as working forests with multiple objectives: to improve and protect the forest, to secure favorable watershed conditions, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use of citizens of the United States. Forest management objectives have since expanded and evolved to include ecological restoration and protection, research and product development, fire hazard reduction, and the maintenance of healthy forests. Guided by law, regulation, and agency policy, Forest Service forest managers use timber sales, as well as other vegetation management techniques such as prescribed fire, to achieve these objectives. These activities have captured substantial public attention, and in some cases, become hotly debated issues. There is a great deal of pressure on this management function as recreation, wildlife, open space and scenic resources are especially valuable in California.
This complexity, size and pressure on all the management functions on the National Forests in Region 5 have resulted in complex radio systems. Each National Forest has a "forest net" and an "administrative net," both utilizing repeaters. The forest net is usually the main communication channel for a National Forest, although on some forests fire and law enforcement use forest net and all other functions use the admin net. Some forests have a separate "fire net." Most forests have a "service net," which is used for communications between the incident command post and forest dispatcher with most of that being logistical in nature. Cell phones have replaced this net where coverage is available, but service net is still used in cell phone dead zones. The service nets are also available as a command for initial attack of large incidents or for portions of National Forests during multiple fire starts on a forest. Two National Forests, the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity, have management unit or ranger district nets. Some forests link repeaters and remote bases with UHF radio (406-420 MHz) only or microwave only and some use a combination of both. Region 5, like most regions, has a dedicated project net (168.6625 MHz), which is one simplex channel for the entire region. This frequency can be used for both fire and non-fire day to day uses.
The region has been assigned 3 unique tactical frequencies. These have been used as supplements on extended attack and large, national, incidents since they were assigned to the region and NIFC Tacs 1-3, especially Tac 2, have been used for initial attack for as long they have existed. The federal wildland fire and land management agencies (National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) are beginning to phase out the use of the NIFC tacticals for initial attack. Region 5 does not appear to have started this effort yet. The BLM and U.S. Forest Service are getting frequency allocations so that each Forest Service region and each BLM State Office have a least three unique tactical frequencies in addition to the 6 NIFC tacticals. The future use of the NIFC frequencies will be reserved for use on "National Fires" only. These are fires where a national Type I or Type II incident management team is in command. Less complex and smaller incidents are managed by Type III, IV, and V command organizations and use locally available communications systems. Type III teams can request use of NIFC frequencies and equipment if needed. In Region 5 the complexity and number of simultaneously occurring large incidents in proximity to each other creates a high potential of interference on tactical frequencies. The 6 NIFC and 3 regional tacticals are sometimes insufficient to provide clear and effective communications for all incidents. Unlike other regions that now have regional tactical frequencies, the predominate use of R5's tacticals has been to supplement the NIFC system on large incidents. With the advent of high channel capacity radios in the last 10-15 years a few forests now use them as additional tacticals, but the demand for these continues to be for large "national incidents." At some point in the future additional tactical frequency assignments may be in the picture for R5.
NIFC has a goal to provide 2 air to ground frequencies for each of the 105 interagency dispatch centers in the country and in the west has met this goal everywhere except California.. California has been assigned 7 air to ground frequencies to provide 2 for each of 4 zones configured from north to south. These frequencies are for use by all of the federal land management agencies in those zones. These 7 frequencies have been assigned from the list of 73 national air to ground frequencies. All other Geographical Area Coordination Centers use the 5 original air to air FM tactics. In California each National Forest has been assigned 2 unique air-air FM tactics frequencies. It is not confirmed, but it is believed that these frequencies can be used by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well.
Intra-crew communications in the Pacific Southwest Region take place on the region's project net or on one of the 4 frequencies on the National Intra-crew Communications Plan. The Primary, Secondary and Tertiary crew net frequencies are restricted to use at incident scenes and National Crew net can be used on the crews home unit. Intra-crew communications must be logistical and not tactical in nature. The 6 NIFC and 3 regional tactical frequencies may not be used for intra-crew communications.
The brand of handheld radio used by the U.S. Forest Service (and most wildland fire agencies as well) is Bendix King. The model of BK radios most commonly used have a capacity of 16 groups of 16 channels each. "Command" models with greater capacity are available as well. These radios allow the user to select a CTCSS tone independently for each channel by selecting a number on the radio's keypad. In Region 5, for the purposes of brevity and efficient use of repeater nets the name of the repeater is not voiced, rather the CTCSS tone number is announced (e.g., "Tone 9" instead of "Pine Mountain"). Cal Fire uses the same procedure. Other federal agencies in the state and other areas of the country use the name of the repeater in most cases, although the announcement of the tone only is beginning to catch on in other areas.
UNIT IDENTIFIERS (aka "Call Signs")
Unit identifiers in R5 use two systems, the function name, district number, position number, system (e.g "Recreation 21" and "Wildlife 32"); and the district number, function number and position number - system (e.g. "261" and "631"). Function numbers vary from forest to forest. A directive was issued for all forests to use the first system, but some forests did not follow this direction and are using the second system. Fire management on all National Forests use the first system with Chief, Division, Battalion, Superintendent, Captain, Engineer, Fuels, Engine, Patrol, Water Tender (large water trucks) Prevention, Dozer, Crew, Boat (patrol boat), Lead (plane - 5 plus pilot number), Air Attack (plus National Forest number), Recon (air patrol plane - each forest issued a series of numbers), Tanker (aircraft that dump retardant), Jumper (5 plus number assigned to aircraft) and Helicopter (500 series numbered north to south). Dispatch centers identify by the National Forest name (e.g. "Plumas") when the center is not co-located with Cal Fire, with the exception of the Sierra National Forest. Those co-located with Cal Fire identify with the city the center is located in (e.g. "Redding"). Call signs are the FCC license format (even though the federal government is not issued licenses by the FCC), example: "KMB670" for the Inyo National Forest communications center.
All functions use "clear text" and not the 10 codes ("10-4") except law enforcement officers who use the ten code, eleven code and the California Penal and Vehicle codes. This allows them to interface with state/local officers.
U.S. Forest Service voice procedure is to pronounce the unit being called first, followed by the unit that is calling. The net name or channel is then given and finally the repeater tone being used if applicable. The unit called will then answer the call with its identifier only. When the conversation ends each unit signs off with their unit identifier. Example: "Wildlife 2, Recreation 21 (usually abbreviated as Rec 21), North, Tone 3" - "Wildlife 2" - "be advised I heard a spotted owl call near Inyo Craters last night" - "Copy, I will send Wildlife 23 and 24 there tonight" - "Rec 21", "Wildlife 2." The channel is not considered clear for someone else to use until both units clear by announcing their unit identifier. Dispatcher centers will announce the time and use the assigned call sign to clear, example "1536, KMB 6-6-0."
This background information should allow the reader to understand the systems of each National Forest as listed below.
Return to DB page: United States Forest Service (CA)