National Prescribed Fire Program Review Report Posted

My thanks from me and from at least some TSW readers, to the employees and other folks who worked on this review!!

Here’s the link.

From the Chief’s letter:

Their work is an example of how we strive to hold ourselves accountable at the Forest Service, learn from our successes and mistakes, and find better ways to serve the American people and steward the lands entrusted to our care, for the benefit of current and future generations.

Here are the seven immediate actions:

A review team led by Forest Service personnel—with partner representation from municipalities, counties, States, and nongovernmental organizations from across the country—identified themes and findings to form the recommendations in this report. The Agency Co-Team Leaders made final recommendations to the Chief for immediate implementation to lift the program pause. The recommendations are tactical approaches the Forest Service can use to account for multiple factors affecting practitioners’ ability to carry out prescribed burns in a safe and effective manner.

These tactical recommendations are as follows:
1. Each Forest Service unit will review all prescribed fire plans and associated complexity analyses to ensure they reflect current conditions, prior to implementation. Prescribed fire plans and complexity analyses will be implemented only after receiving an updated approval by a technical reviewer and being certified by the appropriate agency administrator that they accurately reflect current conditions.
2. Ignition authorization briefings will be standardized to ensure consistent communication and collective mutual understanding on key points.
3. Instead of providing a window of authorized time for a planned prescribed fire, agency administrators will authorize ignitions only for the Operational Period (24 hours) for the day of
the burn. For prescribed fires requiring multi-day ignitions, agency administrators will authorize ignitions on each day. Agency administrators will document all elements required for ignition authorization.
4. Prior to ignition onsite, the burn boss will document whether all elements within the agency administrator’s authorization are still valid based on site conditions. The burn boss will also assess human factors, including the pressures, fatigue, and experience of the prescribed fire implementers.
5. Nationwide, approving agency administrators will be present on the unit for all high-complexity burns; unit line officers (or a line officer from another unit familiar with the burn unit) will be on unit for 30-40% of moderate complexity burns.
6. After the pause has been lifted, units will not resume their prescribed burning programs until forest supervisors go over the findings and recommendations in this review report with all employees involved in prescribed fire activities. Forest supervisors will certify that this has been done.
7. The Chief will designate a specific Forest Service point of contact at the national level to oversee and report on the implementation of these recommendations and on the progress made in carrying out other recommendations and considerations raised in this review report.

And additional steps

By January 1, 2023, we will establish a Western Prescribed Fire Training curriculum with the interagency fire and research community, and partners, to expand the successes of the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center (NIPFTC) headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida. This curriculum will incorporate the knowledge and experience of Tribes, partners, and communities and include a strategy of training and developing skills together so we can build collective capacity to expand the use of prescribed burning on National Forest System and other
lands. We will identify and provide the additional staffing needed to support this action.

By December 15, 2022, our Incident Management Organization will develop a national strategic plan for prescribed fire implementation. The plan will include implementation timing, implementation command structure, and logistics to prioritize and mobilize resources for both suppression and prescribed burning activities. This plan will include necessary staffing, funding, and monitoring to help shape future system improvements.

By December 15, 2022, we will identify a strategy, in collaboration with partners, for having crews that can be dedicated to hazardous fuels work and mobilized across the country to support the highest priority hazardous fuels reduction work.

We will continue investing in potential operational delineations (PODs) and ensure that they are used as a tool for both wildfire response and vegetative/fuels management planning.

For clarity and consistency, we will use a standardized approach for declared wildfire reviews and improve current systems for tracking findings and recommendations for continuous learning.


I liked the nod to PODs.

14 thoughts on “National Prescribed Fire Program Review Report Posted”

  1. There are actually some good ideas within this report, however, all of this will be seen as burdensome and onerous. It will undoubtedly lead to less prescribed burning happening, maybe significantly less. It is much too easy to do nothing instead, there is really no risk to a line officer or employee for doing nothing. This is a risk to the land they manage, but not to the employees. All they really have to do is say “gee, we would have like to have done some burning, but we just didn’t get the windows. Maybe next year”. And on it goes. There are really no built-in incentives to actually get more burning done. They look at others getting hung out to dry and say, “I don’t want that happening to me”. I’ll crawl in my foxhole and keep my head down.

    • Dave, well isn’t that the problem of initiating something potentially dangerous to human safety? You have to make the rewards worth the risks. However the people taking the risks (communities) are not the same people being rewarded. Perhaps there are other examples of dangerous activities that have been appropriately incentivized.

      I bet in a year or two there will be a lessons learned where people who wanted to do this figured out a way to make the new requirements less onerous.

      This may be one of the cases, like public involvement, that you have to go slow initially to build up the expertise and relationships to go fast. And it looks like we’ll be needing prescribed fire over the long haul.

      • I want the Forest Service to be highly skilled and trained in prescribed fire. It certainly has the potential to be high risk, as we have seen numerous times. I believe the FS needs to invest a lot more money into the training and development of Rx Fire implementers. Maybe there could be additional pay for those who build their qualifications? Maybe there could be something like Rx burn Hotshot crews? I learned from working in R8 that Rx burning is just one of those things that you learn from doing, getting a lot of experience. When a unit does one or two burns a year, that is really minimal experience.

        The public should expect the FS to do this right. The public has skin in the game if it goes wrong. Maybe local governments should play a larger role in the implementation of burns? Right now, it is probably a little too easy for communities to sit back and if things go well, they benefit and all is well, and if things go wrong, they rip the FS. In a sense, they are sharing the risk/benefit so maybe they need to have some share in the planning and execution? Some ownership?

        Doing nothing is a risk decision as well and the public needs to realize that. You’re just transferring the risk to a later time. As the old saying goes “leave it for the night shift”.

  2. I was waiting to see if anyone jumped on this so I’ll add my two cents; first of all, the idea of a “West centric” prescribed burn school is a great idea! I went through one at the Bend Silviculture lab to get my certification. I was a burn boss and practitioner in three Regions, burning tens of thousands of acres. However, as a technical specialist, and approver of burn plans, that covered four Regions, I literally approved hundreds of plans.

    We need to realize, Regions 8 and 9 are the experts; they have the climate, fuels and experience to successfully carry out hundreds of thousands of acres every year. Anything west of the 100th Meridian is going to be a gamble. Why (perception) is the Chiefs rollout California centric? Most of the problems this year were in Region 3, New Mexico specific, and that boiled down to lack of experience or negligence. That will not be addressed by these recommendations; accountability is once again missing!

    As for “tactical measures”, really? The committee was composed of a bunch of high roller, leadership heavy (a friend used to say “GS heavy” 🤣) leaders, from a broad stakeholder environment. I do hope some actually have been on the ground during a prescribed fire. Nothing quite excites like a helicopter coming at you, treetop level, 60 mph, dropping a ping pong ball every second that is filled with potassium permanganate and glycol!

    Unfortunately, as Dave suggests, this will only add another couple of administrative layers, hindering a process to get a burn off the ground. It never addresses the “risk” of lackadaisical performance of both burn bosses and Line! I wish them luck, and hope never again a disaster such as the one New Mexico “biffed” rears its ugly head!!!

    • I did see prescribed fires in action on the DeSoto NF. I never saw people watching them, but the fires were burning perfectly, creeping around and burning the ground fuels. I also saw/heard their burning coordination happening, with the weather being such an important factor. They have a very good handle on what to do when the humidity drops and the winds increase.

      There are some parts at the mid-elevations in the Sierra Nevada, where acres can be easily and (relatively) safely accomplished. 3-5 years of bearclover growth is the trigger to planning another ‘maintenance’ burn. With bearclover being so flammable, the fire carries very well. In fact, on a slope, you must start at the top, making a ‘serpentine’ path down the slope, dripping fire everywhere you walk. It is fascinating to watch the fire behavior, as it is not important to use all that much driptorch fuel. Pre-European landscapes there were ‘managed’ with large-scale burns of low intensity, especially where the bearclover dominated.

  3. “However the people taking the risks (communities) are not the same people being rewarded.” They are rewarded with safer communities aren’t they? Where prescribed fire is implemented to protect communities, why shouldn’t they be involved in making the decision? I don’t see that here. (I would expect discussions during forest planning to include the values at risk and the nature of the protection strategy to address them, including how fire would be used.)

    • I think the point is that when things go wrong, an FS person gets a lateral transfer… a community member may lose their home, business or life. These don’t seem equivalent to me. The public is involved in making the decision as each PB requires some kind of NEPA which requires some kind of public involvement even just scoping for a CE.

      • I wonder what the local public had to say about the New Mexico PB during the NEPA process.

        But it looks to me like the lesson learned in this report is that there needs to be more oversight closer to implementation because of how conditions have to be right, and may change quickly. In NM, there seemed to people or information that might have been available that wasn’t or was ignored. Would some local official(s) like to have veto power on at least the timing – and therefore share the responsibility?

        (I know this runs counter to my usual position on local communities having too much sway over decisions, but if we are explicitly doing it for them, and the effects are so direct …)

  4. …Except that Moore/the report says that “The Forest Service could also propose to the Council on Environmental Quality, a White House agency, an “alternative arrangement request” to exempt prescribed fire planning requirements under NEPA in “high priority landscapes,” the report said.”

    (From the E&E News story on the report.)

    So, perhaps the public WON’T be involved. One also has to wonder, therefore, whether Tribes will be engaged….


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