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Washington D.C., May 20, 2022 – Today, because of the current extreme wildfire risk conditions in the field, I am initiating a pause on prescribed fire operations on National Forest System lands while we conduct a 90-day review of protocols, decision support tools and practices ahead of planned operations this fall.
Our primary goal in engaging prescribed fires and wildfires is to ensure the safety of the communities involved. Our employees who are engaging in prescribed fire operations are part of these communities across the nation. The communities we serve, and our employees deserve the very best tools and science supporting them as we continue to navigate toward reducing the risk of severe wildfires in the future.
Before prescribed fire ignitions ever take place on the landscape, extensive planningoccurs.Landscapes are analyzed for prescribed fire treatments and the effects on community well-being, vegetation, hydrology, threatened and endangered species and other values. Extensive standard operating procedures to authorize prescribed fires include developing and coordinating a burn plan, site preparation, public notifications, weather and forecast monitoring and validation before a decision is made to go ahead.
In 99.84 percent of cases, prescribed fires go as planned. In rare circumstances, conditions change, and prescribed burns move outside the planned project area and become wildfires.
The review I am announcing today will task representatives from across the wildland fire and research community with conducting the national review and evaluating the prescribed fire program, from the best available science to on-the-ground implementation. Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning.
Wildfires are increasingly extreme because of climate change, drought and dry fuels across many parts of the country. Prescribed burn operations are essential tools managers need to protect communities and first responders, improve forest conditions and reduce the threat of extreme fires.
The Forest Service oversees the nation’s largest prescribed fire program and safely conducts an average of 4,500 prescribed fire projects annually, treating more than 1,400,000 acres of National Forest System lands. As identified in the 10-year Confronting the Wildfire Crisis strategy, it is imperative for the Forest Service and partners to work together to increase fuels treatments by up to four times current levels in the West, including using prescribed burning as well as mechanical and other treatments.
The pause I am announcing today will have minimal impact on these objectives in the short- and long-term since the agency conducts more than 90 percent of its prescribed burn operations between September and May.