Incident Strategic Alignment Process And Wildfire Decisions

We’ve been talking about the factors that suppression folks take into account when they talk about what I’ll call for now “wildfire with benefits” since I’m not sure that everyone agrees on the appropriate expression. Mike mentioned checklists and WFDSS (pronounced Wiffids, I think, please correct), and there is also the Incident Strategic Alignment Process. There’s a story map here about ISAP that was a bit buried in the previous TSW post about the San Juan. There are some good videos in the story map about how fire managers make decisions.

Folks I’ve spoken with say that they do fire pre-planning, and they do involve the public. There also seems to be more concern on some forests than on other forests, which may relate to a more generic trust or distrust of forest leadership. I’m wondering whether this is a typical Forest Service decentralization thing, that different places have different ways of doing things, some relationships are better than others, and as Mike says “there’s no “one size fits all.” Forests may well diverge in the way they do fire planning, the extent to which it is covered in the forest plan and so on. Do fire teams also diverge in the way they approach things? It could get really confusing to the public. Then there’s communication between the teams and forest leadership, and among teams, forest leadership and communities. And communities may view risk differently than the FS.

And yet forests like the San Juan have a track record of excellence. So it can be done. How to make that happen everywhere?

Maybe a national review with recommendations would be helpful.

12 thoughts on “Incident Strategic Alignment Process And Wildfire Decisions”

  1. An independent review of this national emergency and our Country’s ability to address it is essential. So far, our approach is embarrassing. And until the review is completed and recommendations are secured, the direction should be to put out all unplanned wildfires immediately, no exceptions.

    Very respectfully,

    • Michael, I think my idea of a review would be along the lines of “lessons learned” like any practice.
      Given that it can be useful (which you may not agree with) and is successful in some places under certain conditions, what works and what isn’t working and how can the FS build trust and competence in doing it? That would be my idea of a review.
      My argument for not “immediately no exceptions” is that forests have been successful- at reducing fuels in certain areas, or restoring to pre-Euro conditions, or reducing stems per acre and helping the remaining trees be healthier (thinning).
      So far I’ve seen people line up from say 0- that’s you to 5-things are fine.
      I think some people in the middle (especially potentially impacted communities) want a better grasp of what’s going on and to have a voice at some point. Being questioned by the public is likely to be the order of the day; I know some folks in the mountains near here are very observant of when anyone is doing prescribed fire, after the Lower North Fork Fire. How to live with fire, and to live with people questioning fire practices? I don’t know the answer.

      • Sharon, my idea of of a review is a systematic, procedural, comprehensive series of programmatic National, Regional, and Forest level EISs. There has been no APA NEPA NFMA compliance with substantive or procedural laws, no analysis of current conditions, and no disclosure of the environmental impacts of what is undoubtedly the most consequential anthropomorphic disturbance regime and major federal action in our history. Why not? Why are they avoiding a rigorous public process?

        They are not involving the public in unilateral wildfire use decisions at any level. In spite of a few FMOs believing they are involving the public because they had a chat over a truck hood, public involvement is defined by law. The FS is not involving the public or other traditional partners. It’s why the Red Book is careful to differentiate BLM BIA NPS FS policies. Ask the Governors of Utah, Montana, California, and others how they feel about let burn/expand strategies.

        Forest Supervisors assert their wildfire use decisions are in line with FLRMPs but there is no basis for that assertion.

        Not to mention fires like the current Indios where the Santa Fe Supervisor is using WFM appropriated “emergency fire suppression” money to sustain a huge prescribed fire. It costs $250,000/day to have that crew do project work. Not counting all the heavy equipment and aircraft. So roughly $500,000/day to not put the fire out. Doesn’t that bother you a little? It’s the extra-legal use of federal money supported by a fiscal irregularity.

        Plus it’s dangerous. The longer our people are on the Fireground the more opportunity for firefighter and civilian casualties. The people who live right next to the fire are kept at bay by sheriffs deputies and FS LEOs, at gunpoint if required. They definitely had no say in Indios Fire decisions.

        It’s not about whether fire is good or bad. It’s about following our laws, rules, and regulations that govern stewardship of our public and private properties and natural resources.

        • Frank, per this point, “Forest Supervisors assert their wildfire use decisions are in line with FLRMPs but there is no basis for that assertion.”

          In the Rio Grande NF Land Management Plan, the forest I retired from, managed fire is included in the plan. For example:
          Desired Conditions
          DC-FIRE-1: Wildland fire and fuels reduction treatments are used to create vegetation conditions that reduce threats to real property and infrastructure from wildfire. Fuel loads on lands adjacent to developed areas and communities are reduced. Lands adjacent to private property and infrastructure have defensible space and dispersed patterns of fuel conditions that would favorably modify wildfire behavior and reduce the rate of spread in and around communities at risk. (Forestwide)
          DC-FIRE-2: Natural ignitions play a natural role in ecosystem dynamics when and where there is no threat to human life or property.

          There is, of course, much more.

          You can find the plan and EIS here:

          The local public was very much involved with the planning process as were a variety of stakeholder groups.

          • Mike, I think that there is probably a question of specifics between the DCs you mention, and plan direction for where and when to use managed fire. For example, the GMUG had a fire planning amendment to its plan in 2007 that has maps and other info.. I also found this in their appendix D on the planning process:

            “The most detailed step in the process involves the tactical implementation of strategic objectives for the wildland fire use program. It is at this level where a specific plan is prepared to guide implementation of fire-related direction on the ground. For wildland fire use, this plan is called the Wildland Fire Implementation Plan (WFIP). A Wildland Fire Implementation Plan is initiated for all wildland fires being managed for resource benefits. However, only the most complex fires will require completion of all parts of a WFIP. The full WFIP consists of three distinct stages that are progressively developed for wildland fires managed for resource benefits or where initial attack is not the selected response. Objectives, fire location, cause, conditions of fuel continuity, current fire activity, fire location, predicted weather and fire behavior conditions, and risk assessment results will indicate when various WFIP Stages must be completed. Most wildland fires will require completion of only the initial stages during their management. As resource benefits become more important as strategic decision factors, fire activity increases, dentified threats increase, and operational mitigation actions increase, additional planning and documentation requirements are involved. ”

            It seems to me that out there somewhere should be a document for WFU or whatever that describes: 1) exactly what decisions are made in a forest plan 2) what other pre-planning efforts that exist, and a description of how the public is involved, and 3) the WFIP, who’s involved and what is decided then. Does anyone know where we can find it?

            • Sharon, I was just providing an initial example of a plan component in response to Frank’s FLRMP comment. There’s more. Also, I know fire management was discussed at forest plan public meetings as I scheduled, publicized and attended every public meeting. Discussions were also held with Congressional staff, county commissioners, and other special interests.

              The WFIP doesn’t seem to be online. I may stop by the RGNF SO tomorrow, if I have time, since I will be in the area and will ask the question of why it isn’t on the fire management page of the forest website. I don’t recall there being public involvement with that plan.

              There is also a San Luis Valley interagency cooperative fire management agreement between the BLM, USFS, FWS and NPS. Employees from these agencies assist each other with prescribed burns and managed fires.

            • Still working on trying to get a hold of the RGNF fire management plan (if it exists), but one person on the forest had an interesting response to NEPA and managed fire: wouldn’t taking action against a natural start fire require NEPA since it is preventing fire from playing its natural role in the environment? I am not a policy geek, but I assume there is direction that instructs national forests to suppress fires… yes?

              • Interesting response… but a person could argue that there is no “natural” fire due to climate change.. I don’t know exactly what the regulation/statute/policy is that wildfires should be managed. I’m not sure that a national programmatic EIS for wildfire management ( “managed wildfires” have management in terms of building boxes, etc.) would be very useful, but that’s not a criterion for government actions.

                • Follow-up: The Rio Grande NF no longer has a separate fire management plan. In 2017, the Forest merged their spatial delineations with WFDSS. Basically, if a natural start occurs in designated wilderness or roadless area, the emphasis is to manage the fire for resource benefit (or whatever the buzz phrase of the day is) unless there are additional factors (e.g. near infrastructure, lack of resources to manage the fire, etc). In other areas, the default is full direct suppression unless the situation calls for other measures (e.g., due to firefighter safety). At least that is how I understand it. I’m certainly missing other details.

              • My limited wildfire experience informed me that an emergency determination is made, which excuses firefighting actions from NEPA until after the emergency, under the general heading of “alternative arrangements.” I’m not sure what those require or look like.


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