RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — We’ve already seen the impact of wildfires this year, but the North Carolina Forest Service says it’s been harder because of staffing struggles.

The N.C. Forest Service needs to fill more than 30 jobs in our region. 

Regional forester and division director Kevin Harvell said there’s a big need for rangers and equipment operators, who operate the bulldozers used to fight most of the wildfires in this part of the state. That position has a 42 percent vacancy rate right now.

The staff is still responding to fires, but workers are putting in long hours, plenty of overtime and frequent on-call shifts. 

Harvell is worried that’ll push more of his staff to leave and create more of a challenge when wildfires kick up.

 “We often say you’re married to the forest service and, you know, that gets a chuckle out of a lot of folks but it often seems true,” Harvell said.

Forest service leaders also blame the staffing shortage on fewer forestry graduates out of college and low pay with a starting salary of nearly $37,000. It often takes months to fill a position, then experienced rangers have to train the new ones.

 “No matter what my position is, it’s a two year training progression until they’re what we call fully-qualified and able to go into the woods by themselves,” Harvell said.

The Forest service just started a new pilot program where they’ll hire and train high school graduates. 

Click here to apply for a job on the Forest Service’s website.