Wildland Fires: Better Information Needed on Effectiveness of Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Treatments

GAO-03-430 Published: Apr 04, 2003. Publicly Released: May 07, 2003.
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Highlights

Wildfires burn millions of acres annually. Most burnt land can recover naturally, but a small percentage needs short-term emergency treatment to stabilize burnt land that threatens public safety, property, or ecosystems or longer-term treatments to rehabilitate land unlikely to recover naturally. The Department of the Interior (Interior) and the Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Forest Service--the two departments that manage most federal land--spend millions of dollars annually on such treatments. GAO was asked to (1) describe the two departments' processes for implementing their programs, (2) identify the costs and types of treatments implemented, and (3) determine whether these treatments are effective.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture In order to better ensure that funds for emergency stabilization and rehabilitation treatments on burnt lands are used as effectively as possible, the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior should require the heads of their respective land management agencies to specify the type and extent of monitoring data that local land units are to collect and methods for collecting these data.
Closed – Implemented
In August 2007, the Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service finalized standardized protocols for monitoring emergency stabilization and rehabilitation treatments, including a standardized protocol for (1) the type and extent of monitoring data collected and (2) methods to collect these data.
Department of the Interior In order to better ensure that funds for emergency stabilization and rehabilitation treatments on burnt lands are used as effectively as possible, the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior should require the heads of their respective land management agencies to specify the type and extent of monitoring data that local land units are to collect and methods for collecting these data.
Closed – Implemented
In August 2007, the Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service finalized standardized protocols for monitoring emergency stabilization and rehabilitation treatments, including a standardized protocol for (1) the type and extent of monitoring data collected and (2) methods to collect these data.
Department of Agriculture In order to better ensure that funds for emergency stabilization and rehabilitation treatments on burnt lands are used as effectively as possible, the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior should require the heads of their respective land management agencies to develop an interagency system for collecting, storing, analyzing, and disseminating information on monitoring results for use in management decisions
Closed – Not Implemented
The Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service established a National Fire Plan Operations and Reporting System (NFPORS) to assist staff in managing and reporting accomplishments for work conducted under the National Fire Plan, which will be used as a repository for collecting, storing, analyzing, and disseminating information on monitoring results. As of August 2007, the Forest Service is consolidating several data storage systems to supply the required Forest Service monitoring data for NFPORS. However, the Forest Service has no plans for analyzing or disseminating monitoring results for use in management decisions.
Department of the Interior In order to better ensure that funds for emergency stabilization and rehabilitation treatments on burnt lands are used as effectively as possible, the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior should require the heads of their respective land management agencies to develop an interagency system for collecting, storing, analyzing, and disseminating information on monitoring results for use in management decisions
Closed – Not Implemented
The Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service established a National Fire Plan Operations and Reporting System (NFPORS) to assist staff in managing and reporting accomplishments for work conducted under the National Fire Plan, which will be used as a repository for collecting, storing, analyzing, and disseminating information on monitoring results. As of August 2007, Interior is consolidating several data storage systems to supply the required monitoring data for NFPORS. However, Interior has no plans for analyzing or disseminating monitoring results for use in management decisions.

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