Skip to Highlights
Highlights

Wildland fires can result from both natural and human causes. Human-caused wildland fires are of particular concern in Arizona--especially within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border because this is a primary area of entry for illegal border crossers and GAO has previously reported that illegal border crossers have been suspected of igniting wildland fires. Over half of the land in the Arizona border region is managed by the federal government--primarily by the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and four agencies within the Department of the Interior. These agencies collaborate with state, tribal, and local entities to respond to wildland fires. GAO was asked to examine, for the region, the (1) number, cause, size, and location of wildland fires from 2006 through 2010; (2) economic and environmental effects of human-caused wildland fires burning 10 or more acres; (3) extent to which illegal border crossers were the ignition source of wildland fires on federal lands; and (4) ways in which the presence of illegal border crossers has affected fire suppression activities. GAO reviewed interagency policies and procedures; analyzed wildland fire data; and interviewed federal, tribal, state, and local officials, as well as private citizens..

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To ensure agencies have the data needed to identify wildland fire prevention activities and to ensure resources are effectively targeted, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service, the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to re-examine the policy that all human-caused wildland fires be investigated.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service reviewed agency manual and handbook requirements and examined regional and informal local investigative procedures, subsequently establishing Border Fire Investigations Guidelines that define agency protocols for conducting fire investigations in the region.
Department of Agriculture To ensure that fire suppression activities are not unnecessarily delayed and that law enforcement resources are efficiently allocated, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service to develop a coordinated risk-based approach for the region to determine when law enforcement support is warranted for each wildland fire occurrence and adjust their response procedures accordingly. In developing this approach, officials in the region should consult with agencies' headquarters to ensure consistency in the approaches being developed for the region and for all land management agency units nationwide.
Closed - Implemented
In its Border Fire Response Protocol and Border Fire Investigations Guidelines, the Forest Service defined regional protocols for assessing the need for law enforcement security during agency activities related to wildland fires.
Department of the Interior To ensure that fire suppression activities are not unnecessarily delayed and that law enforcement resources are efficiently allocated, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service to develop a coordinated risk-based approach for the region to determine when law enforcement support is warranted for each wildland fire occurrence and adjust their response procedures accordingly. In developing this approach, officials in the region should consult with agencies' headquarters to ensure consistency in the approaches being developed for the region and for all land management agency units nationwide.
Closed - Implemented
Interior took several actions to develop a coordinated risk-based approach to determining the need for law enforcement support by, among other things, participating in the development of a regional border response protocol plan to provide consistency and standardize response, communication, and actions taken in order to mitigate risks.
Department of the Interior The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to develop border-specific fire response guidance or review existing guidance to determine whether it is sufficient and, if so, formally adopt it.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of the Interior reviewed and adopted the Forest Service-developed Border Fire Response Protocol in May 2012, which provides guidelines for assessing the need for law enforcement security during agency activities related to wildland fires.
Department of Agriculture To ensure agencies have the data needed to identify wildland fire prevention activities and to ensure resources are effectively targeted, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service, the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to develop a strategy for determining which fires to investigate, including specific criteria to help select and prioritize those fire incidents that should be investigated once the agencies have determined the appropriate level of investigations.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service's Border Fire Investigations Guidelines define agency protocols for conducting fire investigations in the region.
Department of the Interior To ensure agencies have the data needed to identify wildland fire prevention activities and to ensure resources are effectively targeted, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service, the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to develop a strategy for determining which fires to investigate, including specific criteria to help select and prioritize those fire incidents that should be investigated once the agencies have determined the appropriate level of investigations.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of the Interior established procedures and protocols in September 2013 for prioritizing which fires to investigate.
Department of Agriculture To ensure agencies have the data needed to identify wildland fire prevention activities and to ensure resources are effectively targeted, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service, the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to develop a systematic process to use the information identified in the investigations to better target fire prevention activities and resources.
Closed - Implemented
The Forest Service established an annual review to determine if there are enforcement, education, or engineering strategies to better prevent fires as well as an interagency Southeast Arizona Zone Prevention Committee--including the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service--to more efficiently share prevention information.
Department of the Interior To ensure agencies have the data needed to identify wildland fire prevention activities and to ensure resources are effectively targeted, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Chief of the Forest Service, the Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to develop a systematic process to use the information identified in the investigations to better target fire prevention activities and resources.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of the Interior took several actions to help target fire prevention activities. These included efforts to develop a new national standard for fire cause reporting to better support prevention and education, and implementing an interagency prevention program aimed at the most common causes of fires, including roadside fires and abandoned campfires, and targeting outreach and messaging via print, radio, and television.

Full Report