MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - The Mississippi Forestry Commission is consolidating district offices and cutting staff to cope with a $2.67 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.
The commission said its appropriations bill is a 16 percent decrease in funds from the 2017 fiscal year. It will consolidate its current seven districts into four new regions and eliminate about 75 positions starting July 1.
"Preserving the Mississippi Forestry Commission's statutorily mandated responsibility to protect forestland, lives, and homes from wildfire is our top priority," said Charlie Morgan, State Forester, Mississippi Forestry Commission. "After much deliberation, the difficult decision was made to consolidate and reorganize districts, leaving as many wildland firefighting 'boots on the ground' in place as possible - within the constraints of our current budget restrictions. The decision to reorganize our districts was not made lightly. We are deeply saddened to lose these faithful employees and appreciate their years of service to the state of Mississippi."
The commission said the goal of the reorganization is to reduce the impact of budget cuts on public services.
During fall wildfire season of fiscal year 2016, the commission responded to and suppressed 1,228 wildfires that burned 13,983 acres.
After the reorganization, the commission said private landowners may have a different contact person or office for services, and updated information can be found on its website.
Seventy-seven percent of Mississippi's forestland is privately owned by 350,000 people statewide. Phone numbers to report a wildfire will remain the same.