Wildland fire plays an important ecological role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. However, wildland fires also burn millions of acres each year, cost billions of dollars, damage homes and critical natural resources, and result in deaths. The size and intensity of wildland fires have increased in recent decades, partly due to climate change, and many scientists and researchers expect fires to become larger and more severe in the future.
Five federal agencies are responsible for wildland fire management: USDA’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. A number of factors affect their ability to manage wildfires and mitigate the damage they can cause.
- These federal agencies received almost $5.5 billion (almost $550 million per year on average) during FYs 2011-2020 to reduce overgrown vegetation on public lands, which can fuel wildfires. However, there are significantly more high-risk acres—about 100 million—than agencies can treat each year (which was about 3 million in FY 2018).
- Agencies have started to place greater emphasis on using wildland fires to help reduce vegetation (rather than seeking to suppress all fires)—a practice intended to improve the ecological health of forests and grasslands and to reduce the intensity of future wildland fires.
- Collaboration among federal and nonfederal organizations (i.e., tribal, state, and local governments; nongovernmental partners; and public stakeholders) is essential to reducing the risks of wildfire. For instance, the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy has helped with coordination across multiple agencies. Monitoring and accountability, as well as comprehensive performance measures, are essential to achieving success with such collaborative efforts.
- FEMA could take actions to better provide disaster assistance to those affected by wildland fires—such as ensuring that eligible survivors have access to recovery funds.