Members of Congress appear to be concerned the U.S. Forest Service is losing too many of its Southern California firefighters.

An item in the massive $555-billion spending bill President Bush signed this week instructs the Forest Service to prepare a proposal by Feb. 1 to improve recruitment and retention of firefighters in Southern California's national forests.

Firefighters in the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are on the front lines of wildfires in places like the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests.

"I see that as positive," said Mike Dietrich, fire chief for the San Bernardino forest, of the recruitment and retention proposal.

The item, inserted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calls on the Forest Service to present its plan to the House and Senate appropriation committees by the February deadline.

The San Bernardino National Forest, the nation's most urbanized forest, lost 60 of about 210 firefighters from October 2006 to mid-May, Dietrich said.

He said the defections have slowed since then, but that he's nervous about what will happen during the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's next hiring round.

The CDF had almost 500 vacancies as of Nov. 1. A number of Forest Service firefighters said they have applied to the CDF and that many of their colleagues have done the same.

Forest Service firefighters have a number of complaints about how