Federal Fire Management:

Limited Progress in Restarting the Prescribed Fire Program

RCED-91-42: Published: Dec 5, 1990. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 1991.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

James Duffus, III
(202) 512-7756
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the federal government's fire management program for wilderness areas, focusing on: (1) the benefits of allowing some fires to burn in controlled situations; (2) progress and constraints in implementing a revamped prescribed fire program; and (3) the need to monitor the program's implementation.

GAO found that: (1) a joint Department of the Interior and Agriculture (USDA) fire management policy review team reaffirmed that fire was beneficial and necessary to wildlands; (2) attempts to eliminate fires from land where it had been a historic component of the environment could result in unnatural ecological changes and increased risks created by the accumulation of fuels on the forest floor; (3) Interior and USDA approved a national interagency preparedness plan in April 1990; (4) some regional preparedness plans were inconsistent with the national interagency preparedness plan, and the review team has approved only two of the eight regional interagency preparedness plans; (5) fire and wilderness managers' implementation of the revamped fire program was limited because federal fire management agencies were slow to approve fire management plans; (6) funds available to manage a prescribed fire program fell short of the amount managers said they needed; (7) some fire and wilderness field office managers continued to subscribe to the philosophy of suppressing all fires; and (8) neither the National Park Service (NPS) nor the Forest Service monitored resource requirements for fully implementing the program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A new interagency training course has been developed, entitled "National Park and Wilderness Fire Management." The first course was scheduled for Spring 1991 and is to be offered annually for the first few years.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should identify and implement additional actions, such as increased training, that would mitigate the concerns raised by those fire and wilderness managers who are reluctant to use fire as a land management tool.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NPS believes that its current reporting and monitoring system for prescribed fire is adequate for bureau land planning and project execution. To develop a broader system would require too complex an interagency effort and the results would not produce significant enough information to be worth it, in the opinion of NPS.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should develop an interagency program to monitor and periodically report to Congress the number of: (1) opportunities for prescribed natural fires that occur during a fire season; (2) fires that are allowed to burn and the number that are immediately declared wildfires, and the factors (such as weather, funding, and firefighter availability) that required the fires to be declared wild; and (3) prescribed natural fires that are later declared wildfires, including the reasons for this declaration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service has directed its field offices to collect the data elements needed to implement this recommendation and has also provided these data elements to NPS. However, because of differing management objectives and priorities it does not agree that this should be required on an interagency basis.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should develop an interagency program to monitor and periodically report to Congress the number of: (1) opportunities for prescribed natural fires that occur during a fire season; (2) fires that are allowed to burn and the number that are immediately declared wildfires, and the factors (such as weather, funding, and firefighter availability) that required the fires to be declared wild; and (3) prescribed natural fires that are later declared wildfires, including the reasons for this declaration.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service has revised its Forest Service Manual directing the field to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct that the regional interagency preparedness plans include the same number of preparedness levels as the national plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS has prepared fire management guidelines to assist its regions in preparation of preparedness plans, and stated that all plans Service-wide will be consistent with preparedness levels described in the national plan.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct that the regional interagency preparedness plans include the same number of preparedness levels as the national plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While NPS is moving ahead with revising fire management plans under new policy guidance for the prescribed fire program, it contends that the revision process is very complex and that setting a specific date for accomplishment is not practical and is not the leading priority. Its response did not address having firm completion dates for regional interagency preparedness plans.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should establish firm dates for completion of fire management plans for all units where prescribed fire programs are to be reinstated as well as for completion of regional interagency preparedness plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service will take action directing field units to establish dates by which the review or revision of fire management plans which have prescribed natural fire programs are to be completed. Regional interagency preparedness plans were directed to be approved prior to the 1991 fire season.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should establish firm dates for completion of fire management plans for all units where prescribed fire programs are to be reinstated as well as for completion of regional interagency preparedness plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS agreed, and stated that it is developing training programs in association with the Bureau of Land Management and other agency cooperatives. It specifically mentioned a "Fire Management for Managers" course, which 77 NPS managers had attended.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should identify and implement additional actions, such as increased training, that would mitigate the concerns raised by those fire and wilderness managers who are reluctant to use fire as a land management tool.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 19, 2014

Sep 15, 2014

Sep 12, 2014

Sep 9, 2014

Aug 11, 2014

Jul 28, 2014

Jul 16, 2014

Jul 15, 2014

Jul 9, 2014

Jun 30, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here