Wildlife Agencies Urged to Engage in Wildland Fire Planning

Wildlife Agencies Urged to Engage in Wildland Fire Planning

State wildlife agencies are being urged to engage in the ongoing development of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.  Speaking at the recent Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies meeting in Hawaii, USDA Forest Service Director for Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air and Rare Plants, Anne Zimmerman, told western state directors that the Cohesive Strategy will have a major impact on how wildland fire is managed.

?The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is about more than just fire.  It is about creating resilient landscapes that can withstand, and even benefit from, wildland fire, encouraging and empowering people to take steps to prepare themselves and their communities to survive a wildfire event and ensuring a safe and effective response when wildfires do occur. It is vital that the habitat needs of fish and wildlife be factored into the strategy.? Zimmerman said.

Wildlife managers have long recognized the critical role fire plays in North American ecosystems. Fire ?re-sets? the successional clock and renews nutrient cycles in ways that benefit a broad range of species.  Fire can also have adverse impacts on wildlife by increasing the risk of erosion or encouraging the spread of non-native species, especially in areas where historic natural fire regimes have been affected by fire suppression.  Across much of the west, a century of aggressive initial attack coupled with the invasion of cheat grass and other invasive species and a decade-long drought have led to large, catastrophic fires that have altered habitats and raised public and congressional concern.

In response to the increasing cost and impact of wildland fire, Congress passed the Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement (FLAME) Act in 2009.  That act directed the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to develop a National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy that cuts across all levels of government and all land ownerships.  The Secretaries, through the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) with representation from federal, state, local and tribal government, defined a vision for the strategy and are overseeing its development.  The WFLC?s vision is, ?To safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a nation, to live with wildland fire.? The Cohesive Strategy will address the nation's wildfire problems by focusing on three key areas: Restore and Maintain Landscapes, Fire Adapted Communities, and Response to Fire.

Development of the Cohesive Strategy includes three phases, two of which have been completed.  Phase I involved the development of A National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (PDF, 1.7 MB) and The Federal Land Assistance, Management And Enhancement Act Of 2009 - Report to Congress (PDF, 1.3 MB). These documents provide national-level perspective on wildland fire and serve as the foundation of the Cohesive Strategy.

In recognition of the regional differences in land ownership, human communities, ecosystems and the role of fire, Phase II of the process involved regional assessments of the needs and challenges associated with wildland fire. Regional Strategy Committees representing three regions of the country?the Northeast, Southeast, and West?examined the processes by which wildland fire, or the absence thereof, threatens values  including wildlife habitats, watershed quality, and local economies.  Results of the regional assessments were released by the WFLC in a recent report.

Phase III will involve taking the qualitative information and existing scientific data gathered in Phase II, as well as additional data gathered in Phase III, and translating it into quantitative models that can help inform management actions on the ground.  A National Science and Analysis Team will assist the Regional Strategy Committees with the development and analysis of alternatives that weigh the risks and trade-offs of different approaches to wildland fire management.

Although development of the Cohesive Strategy has been an open and inclusive process, Zimmerman expressed concern that state fish and wildlife agencies may not be aware of the opportunities ? and potential impacts ? of this planning process.  For example, in the Southeast, where divestiture of private timberland and expanding urban and ex-urban development has affected the use of prescribed fire, the Cohesive Strategy may offer wildlife managers additional ways to integrate the needs of fire-dependent species into plans that also protect human infrastructure.  In the West, where fire management will be a crucial part of efforts to preclude the need to list Sage Grouse as a threatened or endangered species, the Cohesive Strategy could become a powerful tool, or major obstacle, for conservation efforts.

Regional and State Foresters and state and local fire managers are the leads on the Regional Strategy Committees.  State fish and wildlife agencies can learn more about the planning process and how to participate by contacting their State Forester?s office, the U.S. Forest Service or on the Forests and Rangelands website. (cs)

August 20, 2012