Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER)

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER)

What is BAER?

BAER stands for Burned Area Emergency Response. Wildfires can cause complex problems, from severe loss of vegetation and soil erosion, to a decrease in water quality and possible flash flooding. The Burned Area Emergency Response Program addresses stabilization and rehabilitation of these and other post wildfire problems, in order to protect public safety and prevent further degradation of the landscape and to mitigate post-fire damages to cultural resources.

Emergency stabilization is part of a holistic approach to address post wildfire issues, which also includes suppression activity damage repair, burned area rehabilitation, and long-term restoration. In order to facilitate this process, a designated BAER team will begin the process by assessing an area post-fire.

BAER assessment team composition is determined both by the size of the fire and the nature of values potentially threatened by post-fire effects. Generally, specialists in soils, hydrology, geology, engineering, wildlife, botany, and archeology assess the fire’s effects and predict the post-fire effects. Each resource specialist brings a unique perspective to the BAER process, to help the team rapidly determine whether the post-fire effects constitute urgent threats to human life, safety, property, or critical natural and cultural resources and to produce an integrated plan to respond to those threats.

Purpose of BAER

The BAER program is designed to address emergency stabilization issues related to wildland fire. The program is utilized by all federal land management agencies. The BAER teams perform emergency Stabilization actions within one year of wildfire containment. These actions are intended to stabilize and prevent unacceptable degradation to natural and cultural resources, minimize threats to life or property resulting from the effects of a fire, or to repair, replace, or construct physical improvements necessary to prevent degradation of land or resources.

The Department of the Interior firefighting agencies also utilize Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR) efforts, which is used to signal the beginning of restoration efforts. BAR begins within five years of a wildfire containment in order to repair or improve fire-damaged lands that are unlikely to naturally recover to management approved conditions. BAR actions are also taken as an effort to repair or replace minor facilities damaged by fire.

Not every wildland fire will require the services of a BAER team. In fact, most of them do not. The determination not to utilize BAER is no reflection of the importance of a specific wildland fire, however, it just means that the anticipated post-fire impacts to natural and cultural resources from that specific fire were not at an unacceptable level.

Objectives

The objective of the BAER program is to determine the need for and to prescribe and implement emergency treatments on federal lands to minimize threats to life and property resulting from the effects of a fire or to stabilize and prevent unacceptable degradation to natural and cultural resources. During the assessment stage, BAER can identify all values at risk. Agency funds can only be spent on agency or tribal trust lands. The BAER team will work with other emergency authorities and communities to notify them of risks within their jurisdiction, but can only treat federal lands or Indian Tribal Trust lands. Treatments on federal land may benefit downstream private land, but treatments on other than federal land must be developed and accomplished by other means. BAER assessment plans and implementation are often a cooperative effort between federal agencies, state, tribal, and local forestry and emergency management departments.

In most cases, only a portion of the burned area is actually treated. Severely burned areas, very steep slopes, places where water runoff will be excessive, fragile slopes above homes, businesses, municipal water supplies, and other valuable facilities are focus areas. The treatments must be installed as soon as possible, generally before the next damaging storm. Time is critical if treatments are to be effective.

There are a variety of emergency stabilization techniques that the BAER team might recommend. Reseeding of ground cover with quick-growing or native species and straw mulching are techniques commonly utilized. The team also assesses the need to modify road and trail drainage mechanisms by installing debris traps, modifying or removing culverts to allow drainage to flow freely, adding additional drainage dips and constructing emergency spillways to keep roads and bridges from washing out during floods.

Partnerships

BAER assessment plans and implementations of BAER emergency actions are a cooperating and coordinated effort between many federal agencies such as the USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also including state, tribal governments, local agencies, and emergency management departments. It is important that BAER coordinates its assessment and treatment implementations with all affected and interested cooperating agencies and organizations regarding other post-fire recovery and restoration efforts.