|3. Wildland Fire Management - Agencies and Their Roles|
Included in this chapter is an overview of the interagency fire management network and an introduction to the history of wildland fire and societal influences. Fostering communication with your audiences requires messages that address human dimensions issues, therefore a section on public perceptions and attitudes is included.
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) is located in Boise, Idaho, and coordinates and supports operations for managing wildland fire and other natural disasters throughout the United States. The fire center also addresses fuel load management and public education/outreach. The center is located on a 55-acre site administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Operating costs and responsibilities are shared by the cooperating agencies listed below.
Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Department of Agriculture
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Department of the Interior
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Department of the Interior
National Association of State Foresters (NASF)
National Weather Service (NWS), U.S. Department of Commerce
Office of Aircraft Services (OAS), U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Because wildland fire does not acknowledge jurisdictional boundaries, no single federal, state, local, tribal, or volunteer agency alone can handle all wildland fires that may occur in its jurisdiction. These groups work together to exchange support, protection responsibilities, information, and training to protect lives, property, and natural resources.
NIFC provides valuable coordination and support for these cooperative firefighting efforts. It also provides assistance and support for other natural disasters at the request of the Department of Homeland Security - Federal Emergency Management Agency (DHS/FEMA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In addition, it provides support to Canada through a mutual aid agreement and to other foreign countries through the U.S. Department of State, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.
NIFC also hosts the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) that is tasked to quickly locate and mobilize emergency personnel, equipment, supplies, and aircraft nationwide.
The National Multi-Agency Coordination (NMAC) group is another program facilitated by NIFC, and includes the fire directors from BLM, FWS, NPS, BIA, USFS, NASF, and USFA. When the national fire situation becomes severe, the NMAC identifies national or interagency issues and sets priorities for allocating resources. When appropriate, representatives from the General Services Administration (GSA), a military liaison, and state foresters may be added to the group.
Responsibilities for mobilizing fire resources are tiered. At the local level, wildland fire is initially managed by the local agency that has fire protection responsibility for that area. Engines, ground crews, smokejumpers, firefighters, helicopters with water buckets, and air tankers carrying retardant may be used for initial suppression. Various local agencies may work together, sharing personnel and equipment, to fight new fires and those that escape initial action.
If a wildland fire grows to the point where
local personnel and equipment are not
sufficient, the responsible agency contacts the
nearest Geographic Area Coordination
Center (GACC) for help. The GACC locates
During busy fire seasons, fighting wildfires may exhaust the supply of state, local, and geographic area personnel and equipment. In these cases the GACC contacts the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) at NIFC and relays requests from the fire. NIFC locates and mobilizes the closest available resources throughout the nation.
National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)
NWCG is made up of the following:
NWCG Working Teams
Visit www.nwcg.gov for a list of current working teams and to determine your agency representative.
The agencies above recognize that ecosystem health and
sustainability are based largely on natural fire regimes. They use
prescribed fire to maintain or restore fire-adapted ecosystems,
control invasive species, rejuvenate and manage habitats, and
reduce hazardous fuels. However, this approach has not always
North American wildland fire history is sometimes interpreted as events, mostly large wildfires. Though it is not all-inclusive, the following timeline highlights several factors that have shaped our current fire management landscape.
For many years, fire was aggressively excluded to protect both public and private investments and to
prevent what was considered the destruction of forests, savannahs, shrublands, and grasslands.
While the destructive, potentially deadly side of fire was obvious and immediate, changes and risks
resulting from these fire exclusion efforts were difficult to recognize and mounted slowly and
inconspicuously over many decades.
Some fire managers advocated the use of prescribed fire in the 1930's, but it wasn't until the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s that the public became aware that total wildland fire suppression may be harmful to ecosystems. During this same time, researchers found that people preferred naturalness in wildlands, including naturally occurring woody debris, but disliked woody debris created by commercial logging activity (Shelby and Speaker, 1990). To remedy this, scientists in the late 1970s recommended prescribed fire as a method of protecting, maintaining, and enhancing forest resources while reducing unsightly logging debris. As a result, the benefits of re-introducing fire to ecosystems where it had been suppressed became more widely accepted.
There is growing recognition that past land use practices, combined with the effects of fire exclusion, has resulted in heavy accumulations of dead vegetation, altered fuel arrangement, and changes in vegetative structure and composition. When dead fallen material (including tree boles, tree and shrub branches, leaves, and decaying organic matter) accumulates on the ground, it increases fuel quantity and creates a continuous arrangement of fuel. When this occurs, surface fires may ignite more quickly, burn with greater intensity, and spread more rapidly and extensively than in the past. On the other hand, uses such as grazing can sometimes reduce fine fuels, precluding periodic surface fires that would typically burn these areas. Without fire, encroachment of woody species may occur in some savannah and grassland ecosystems.
Fires in areas of altered vegetation and fuels can adversely affect other important forces within an ecosystem, such as insects and disease, wildlife populations, hydrological processes, soil structure and mineralogy, and nutrient cycling. Any of these components, if altered greatly by usually severe fire, can seriously diminish the long-term sustainability of the land. In addition, effective protection from, and control of these large fire events will likely be much more difficult.
Today's Societal Influence
Although the basic concept of restoring fire to ecosystems has
gained broader acceptance, several factors hinder the
reintroduction of wildland fire on an ecologically significant scale.
The public is slow to accept fire as a legitimate wildland fire
management tool, largely due to past programs emphasizing
complete fire suppression over ecosystem management. In
addition, sometimes it takes years to reach agreement about
Another constraint is that fire management plans are not in place in all areas, thus precluding managers from using wildland fire use as a management tool. An additional contributing factor is that our landscape is interspersed with fixed human settlements so that fire management agencies cannot accommodate fire under a completely natural regime. Prescribed fire and wildland fire use may benefit ecosystems, but these fires and the smoke generated by them may compromise public health and safety. This is especially true in the wildland/urban interface (WUI) where communities meet wildlands and a substantial human presence coexists uneasily with areas of fire-prone forest, brush, and grassland vegetation. Therefore, today's land management agencies are committed to balancing fire risks, including the risk of escaped fires, to communities with the benefits of fire.
Due to concerns over fire risk and smoke management and its impact on human health, transportation, agriculture, atmospheric carbon loading, and global warming, managers may choose to use alternate methods to restore ecosystems and reduce hazardous fuels in the WUI, including biological (e.g., grazing animals), mechanical (cutting or mowing), or chemical (herbicides) treatment of vegetation.
While other techniques may be used, they cannot always replace
the ecological role that fire plays. Fire not only reduces the buildup
of dead and downed fuel; it performs many other critical ecosystem
functions. Fire can recycle nutrients that might otherwise be trapped
for long periods of time in the dead organic matter that exists in
many environments with slow rates of decay. It can also stimulate
the production of nutrients and improve the specific conditions,
including seed release, soil, light, and nutrients, that are critical for
Smoke is perceived as a factor that may affect land managers' ability to use larger and more frequent wildland fire for restoration and maintenance of fire-dependent ecosystems. Several federal air quality programs under the Clean Air Act (CAA) regulate wildland fire emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set air quality standards for pollutants that affect public health. States are then required to submit plans to ensure measures will be taken to meet those air quality standards. Local areas may also develop plans that may be more (but not less) restrictive than state and national standards.
In areas where air quality standards are violated, measures must be taken to reduce emissions. Emission control measures for fires that are used to meet management objectives include smoke management techniques that minimize and disperse smoke away from smoke-sensitive areas. Smoke from fires may also cause standards to be exceeded in communities miles away from the source. Currently, prescribed fires are not considered to be a significant cause of non-attainment. But with increased burning to reduce fuels and restore or maintain ecosystem health, this may change. In many areas, fire managers and local air quality authorities have successfully worked together to accomplish fire and land management objectives, resolve conflicts with smoke emissions, and avoid violation of air quality standards. With guidance from the national level to provide consistent interpretation, further cooperation at the local level will help to achieve a balance of air quality and other ecosystem goals.
The history of humans and fire in North America illustrates the
importance of public perceptions and attitudes in managing
wildland fire. Because successful fire management programs
depend on public support and collaboration, you need to develop
communication products and education programs that reinforce
people's values and perceptions. To do this, demonstrate that an
issue impacts them before attempting to educate them or convince
them of a different perspective. Once you've caught their attention
Public attitudes and perceptions tend to shift with events. To be an effective educator, you must be aware of your audience and their perceptions and attitudes before communicating your message. Otherwise, your message may be outdated or even unnecessary.
Finally, your messages will change, as they have for fire suppression. It's important to be upfront regarding the reasons for changes - and what it means for people in the community.
Motivation and Education
People are generally not motivated by lectures on why they ought
to do something. They are more apt to change behavior if they
come to a conclusion themselves. Therefore, communicating
relevancy should be your first course of action. Engage people with
compelling stories, told by compelling storytellers. These may not
be agency personnel. Research and experience tells us that people
often are most influenced by their peers. Major events such as
destructive fires in neighboring communities can also be motivating