Key Issues > Wildland Fire Management
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Wildland Fire Management

Wildland fires burn millions of acres each year, threatening lives, homes, and natural resources. Our nation’s wildland fire problem worsened dramatically in the last decade due to several factors, including an accumulation of flammable vegetation due to past land management practices; drought and other stresses, in part related to climate change; and increased human development in or near wildlands.

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Within the federal government, five agencies are responsible for wildland fire management: the Department of Agriculture’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. Fire-related activities include not only suppressing wildland fires that occur, but also attempting to lessen the risk of severe fires by reducing potentially hazardous vegetation that can fuel fires—an activity known as fuel reduction. Appropriations for the federal government’s wildland fire management activities have tripled, averaging approximately $3 billion annually in recent years, up from about $1 billion in fiscal year 1999.

Agencies have made improvements in their wildland fire management programs, but additional action is needed in four primary areas:

  • developing a cohesive long-term strategy for addressing the growing wildland fire threat,
  • establishing clear goals and a strategy to help contain wildland fire costs,
  • improving processes for allocating fuel reduction funds and selecting fuel reduction projects, and
  • improving the use of an interagency budgeting and planning tool for wildland fire management.

Figure 1: Ways wildland fire can threaten a structure

Figure 2: Example of one wildland fire's progression over time

* For full interactive version see GAO-12-155, p. 10

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