USFS issues more policy guidance

James Hubbard, the U.S. Forest Service’s Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, recently issued another memo to the field about policies related to wildland fire and how they will be implemented. Mr. Hubbard said the USFS “will continue to improve our communication, coordination, assessing and managing risk, and decision making skills.”

A lot of the content in the memos is common sense, and much of it has been policy for a while. It makes you wonder about the motivation for sending this guidance out to the field, and brings to mind a few fires last year on which the outcomes were not ideal.

Here are a few highlights and excerpts from the documents:

Aggressive initial attack within a risk based approach on all human caused wildfires, and reflecting the objectives of the Land and Resource Management Plans is expected on all fires. Wildfires must have documented objectives for the protection of life and property with suppression strategies.

All wildfires must have, at a minimum, documented objectives for the protection of life and property with suppression strategies.

There are only two types of wildland fires: wildfires and prescribed fires. The terms “fire use fires”, “resource benefit fires”, or “suppression fires” will not be used. The agency reports activity on only these two types of fire. Manage natural ignitions to achieve desired Land and Resource Management Plan objectives when risk is within acceptable limits. A wildfire may be concurrently managed for more than one objective.

Approval levels for wildfire decision analyses are based on the agency’s projected cost and not the total estimated cost of the wildfire. The following approval thresholds apply as stated in FSM 5131.04 and subject to qualification and certification policies stated in FSM 5131.11 (note – prior certification thresholds are no longer applicable):

  • Up to $2 million – District Ranger
  • $2 to $10 million – Forest Supervisor
  • Over $10 million – Regional Forester

Oversight designations are based on the complexity level as determined using the methods in the Interagency Standards for Fire and Operations (aka Red Book, NFES 2724).

  • Type 3, 4, and 5 wildfire decisions/delegations are made at the District Ranger level with oversight by the Forest Supervisor.
  • Type 2 wildfire decisions/delegations are made at the Forest Supervisor level with oversight by the Regional Forester.
  • Type 1 wildfire decisions/delegations are made at the Regional Forester level with National oversight.

Critical long duration wildfire oversight roles include ensuring that:

  • Up-to-date decision analyses are completed and documented in Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS).
  • Hazards are identified and risk assessments are incorporated into decisions.
  • Coordination with partners and potentially affected parties is conducted (including smoke impacts). Unifed command is implemented early if necessary.
  • Resource capacity and availability are adequately assessed to meet expectations.

On all wildfires, but especially on long duration wildfires, develop specific protection objectives and suppression strategies to keep the fire from crossing property lines where it is unwanted. When all parties are in agreement with the course of action, they should agree that if events transpire that moves the fire across the property boundary, parties will engage in negotiating cost share agreements following direction in Chapter 80 of Interagency Incident Business Management Handbook (NFES 2160).

Plans should identify the necessary resources and timing of deployment as necessary to reasonably prevent fire movement beyond the planned perimeter.

It is important to learn from all unintended outcomes. We have a system of reviews, analyses, and investigations to assist in identifying, preventing, and understanding factors that may prevent future accidents and injury. It is important to select and apply the appropriate tool. Tools include Serious Accident Investigation (SAI), Accident Prevention Analysis (APA), Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA), and Administrative Investigations. To help select the right tool, refer to Organizational Learning “Lessons Learned” Analysis Options ( found in the letter of August 10, 2009.

USFS Fire Communications Guidance

On fires on National Forest System land the USDA Forest Service, even if they are not regular IIOs [Incident Information Officer] on incidents can respond to questions from all news media, including national news media, about the incident only.

Facebook pages are not approved for the Forest Service.

Tweets should alert followers that new information is posted on a website.

Personnel changes in the USFS Washington Office

James Hubbard, the Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry, sent out a memo on May 21 that listed quite a few personnel changes in the U.S. Forest Service’s Washington Office (WO):

I am pleased to announce a series of changes which will enhance the Fire and Aviation Management (FAM) program in the Agency.  These changes involve enhancing the focus of the Agency in our quest to become skilled risk managers in wildland fire, and filling critical vacancies in the FAM staff.

Marc Rounsaville, Deputy Director for Operations, will move to the Deputy Chief’s office as the Wildland Fire Management Specialist and provide additional capacity in our risk management journey.  Marc’s work in our “continuous improvement in decision making” quest will continue.  He will work closely with Associate Deputy Chief John Phipps.

Vicki Christiansen, State Forester for Arizona (and former Washington State Forester), will be joining the Forest Service in the Washington Office as the Deputy Director with oversight responsibilities for National Fire Plan, Partnerships, Fuels, Policy, and Budget.  Vicki’s energy, wisdom, experience, and insight will provide a significant boost to the Agency.

Patti Hirami, Regional Fire Director, R-9 [USFS Eastern Region], will be returning to the WO as the Staff Assistant to the Director.  Patti’s ability to coalesce thinking, her energy and internal relationships will bring significant experience to the FAM staff.

Finally, Rich Kvale, FAM Assistant Director for Planning, Policy, and Budget will replace Marc Rounsaville as the Deputy Director for Operations.

747 Supertanker staged for oil spill

Evergreen has moved their 747 air tanker, or Supertanker, from Oregon to the Gulfport, Mississippi airport in hopes of getting a contract to drop dispersants on the Gulf oil spill. The company is talking with BP, the Coast Guard, and the Air force, giving them the facts about the 20,000-gallon capacity of the huge air tanker. Currently two C-130’s are being usedto drop dispersants, each carrying 5,000 gallons.


Senate panel to evaluate USFS policy on night flying

Next Wednesday the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior will hold a hearing focusing on the policy of the U.S. Forest Service that currently prohibits firefighting helicopters from operating over a fire at night. The agency has been criticized in recent months after USFS retirees and others said the 160,000-acre Station fire near Los Angeles that killed two LA County firefighters may not have have grown so rapidly on its second day if helicopters had attacked the fire the first night and early on the second day.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has been very vocal in calling for hearings and as a advocate for using USFS helicopters at night

Six Minutes for safety calendar

This calendar was created and maintained by Kathy Komatz of the National Park Service and the Six Minutes for Safety Work Group. Kathy recently won the Paul Gleason Award for developing an informational safety series of vignettes titled “This Day in Wildland Fire History.

Bookmark this page:


The concept of Six Minutes for Safety is that each day firefighters will hold a daily six-minute safety meeting based on the topic from this calendar.