The 7th Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference is scheduled for April 15–19, 2024 and will be held simultaneously in Boise, Canberra, and Tralee, Ireland. Conference organizers are now calling for presentations, and each location is inviting presentation proposals.
The IAWF Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference provides a forum at which fire management experience and lessons learned are documented, and current work is showcased. Emerging research, innovation, and management techniques are shared, to develop integrated solutions to wildfire challenges.
This conference on three continents will showcase several countries’ development and integration of fire management policies and frameworks at national, regional, and local levels to address fire risks and build resilience. The conference brings together policy makers, scientists, fire managers, and indigenous land stewards for a shared purpose and a different future living with fire.
The International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) professional association committed to a non-partisan approach for uniting the global wildland fire community. We were formed in 1990 as a global professional membership association. For 30 years IAWF has grown from a fledgling organization to the foremost global wildfire-focused association spanning 26+ countries. The IAWF was built on the belief that an understanding of this dynamic natural force is vital for natural resource management, for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of firefighters and the public, and for harmonious interactions between people and their environment. IAWF is dedicated to communicating with the entire wildland fire community and providing a global link for people with shared interest in wildland fire and associated topics of this multifaceted community. To accomplish these goals, we create networks across sectors, fields, and disciplines to connect the wildfire community through multiple platforms including conferences, our website, the International Journal of Wildland Fire, Wildfire Magazine, and social media outlets.
The legislation provides a historic $4.5 billion for federal wildland fire management programs
Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service outlined the changes the agency will implement in their fuels management program to reflect the large influx of funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill signed by the President November 15, 2021.
This week the Department of the Interior released information about how the funds will affect a range of Interior’s programs. Four agencies in the DOI have significant wildland fire responsibilities: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The article below was written by Erin McDuff, a public affairs specialist with the DOI’s Office of Wildland Fire.
The law includes $1.2 trillion to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and railways; expand access to clean drinking water; ensure every American has access to high-speed internet; tackle the climate crisis; advance environmental justice; and invest in communities that have too often been left behind.
A Historic Investment in Wildland Fire Management
The law is a once-in-a-generation investment, but you might be wondering what it has to do with wildfires. As part of the nation’s efforts to address climate change and support resilient, climate-adapted communities, BIL provides a historic $4.5 billion for federal wildland fire management efforts over the next five years.
Within the federal government, the Interior and Agriculture departments both administer wildland fire programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service will receive an additional $3 billion through BIL while the Interior Department will receive approximately $1.5 billion for wildland fire management over the next five years. Both departments will coordinate closely to maximize the benefits of these additional investments.
What It Means
The Interior Department will dramatically expand its efforts to reduce wildfire risk, prepare for and respond to harmful wildfires, and support post-fire recovery, including in communities that have traditionally been overlooked. In 2022 alone, the Interior Department will invest an additional $407 million in wildland fire management.
Over the next five years, the primary investments will include:
The Interior Department will improve ecosystem health and remove fuel for wildfires on additional acreage using an additional $878 million.
With an additional $325 million, the Interior Department will expand burned area restoration activities.
An additional $164 million will enable the Interior Department to improve firefighter classification, compensation, benefits, mental health resources, and training.
Technology and Equipment
With an additional $72 million, the Interior Department will improve the use of technology and equipment to detect and respond to wildfires.
The Interior Department will invest an additional $10 million in the Joint Fire Science Program to identify and fund high-priority fire science research.
What Happens Next
The Interior Department, in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, is currently developing plans for the strategic implementation of this historic investment.
We are focused on implementing these significant investments in forest and rangeland restoration, hazardous fuel management, wildfire preparation, and post-wildfire recovery as quickly and efficiently as possible. BIL includes aggressive timelines, which we are prepared to meet, and we will share updates throughout the year as our work progresses.
Yesterday the Black Hills National Forest began the final phase of mitigating the downed trees, the fuels, left after a tornado passed through Spearfish Canyon along highway 14A between Cheyenne Crossing and Savoy southwest of Deadwood, South Dakota. There are about 200 piles (from Moskee Road to Sand Creek to Williams Gulch) that crews are planning to burn over the next few days.
The first photo shows the area after the tornado. The second shows piles of debris created so they could be burned later. In the third, one of the piles is surrounded by snow, and finally, they are being burned.
Igniting the fuels while there is snow on the ground greatly reduces the chances of escaping and igniting a wildfire.
The fire burned 221,000 acres near South Lake Tahoe, California
10:46 a.m. PDT Oct. 21, 2021
The U.S. Forest Service has released a four-minute video featuring the Forest Supervisors of the Eldorado National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit discussing fuel treatments that occurred in the years before the Caldor Fire burned nearly a quarter of a million acres southwest of South Lake Tahoe, California.
In what will be one of her last appearances in a Congressional hearing before she retires at the end of August, U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen called repeatedly for a “paradigm shift” for treating hazardous fuels.
Today she testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to defend the President’s budget request for the U.S. Forest Service for Fiscal Year 2022 which begins October 1.
In addition to increasing the amount of timber harvested on Forest Service lands, the topic of reducing the number of devastating wildfires came up many times in the hour and a half hearing. A video is available on the Committee’s website.
Senator John Barrasso (WY) mentioned (at 27:49 in the video) that in an April hearing the chief said a paradigm shift was needed to reduce the hazard fuels in forests. He asked, “Do we need to dramatically increase the number of [wildfire mitigation] acres treated annually?” Chief Christiansen said,”Yes… We can’t just do the same old thing we’ve always done, just treat whatever acres we can get to… We have a crisis. We have a crisis that needs to be addressed differently.”
The Chief said the agency treats about three million acres each year, but they need to treat two to four times that amount.
Senator Ron Wyden (OR) got the Chief to confirm that the agency’s latest estimate is that it would take $20 billion over a 10-year period to “get in front of the hazardous fuel challenge” (at 39:25).
A fuel complex defined by kind, arrangement, volume, condition, and location that presents a threat of ignition and resistance to control.
Senator Wyden addressed the possibility of a fire season this year that could be worse than average (at 36:40). He asked, “What is the plan for keeping people safe when there are fires in multiple communities in the West?”
Chief Christiansen said, in part, that in recent years there has been competition for firefighting resources when the number of fires have resulted in requests for firefighters and equipment that were unable to be filled, and later said, “Our system is at a breaking point.”
Senator Wyden asked the Chief to submit a “written statement on what the plans are if we are short on resources in the West.”
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) asked if the President’s proposed budget includes sufficient funding for battling wildfires, post-fire recovery, prevention, reducing hazard fuels, and addressing invasive species.
“Senator, it’s a step in the right direction. A significant step in the right direction… It helps in modernizing our wildland fire workforce. It does not get us every step that we need to be.
“I’m very concerned about our workforce,” she continued. “They are tired, and fatigued. Their mental well-being and stress that we are concerned about. Many of these folks are temporary employees and they try to make a year’s living in six to nine months. There are still more things to address, but this budget is a very good first step.
Senator Masto asked about the recruitment and retention challenges that the agency is facing (1:05:30).
“It’s a calling to do this work,” the Chief said. “But anybody should be able to have a living wage to do this work. We do have concerns about a competitive wage… We are committed to work with the Department of the Interior and others to do a comprehensive look at our workforce needs.”
“Please share that,” said Senator Masto. “It’s the same thing I’m hearing in my state from our fire chiefs. It’s a challenge. And this is something we have to address.”
Senator Angus King (Maine) said timber sales on public lands fell from 13 billion board feet in 1988 to 3.2 billion last year, a factor of five, he said. (1:13:07) “What in the hell happened,” he asked. Later he said, “Coincidentally from 1991 to 2020 the number of acres burned has gone up by a factor of five. Is there a connection?”
“Yes sir, there is,” the Chief quickly replied. The Senator moved on to another topic and did not allow her to fully explain why she thought there is a connection.
Also tells Congress “we’re on the right track with our air tankers”
In testimony April 15 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen spoke to members of Congress remotely from a spacious office. She had two clear opportunities to accept or ask for more funding in two very important inadequately budgeted areas, fuels treatment and aerial firefighting. In one case when told by a member of Congress “You’re going to need some more help in the resource department,” she incredibly said, “No.”
Doubling or tripling the treatment of fuels
Later, at 48:00, Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada had been talking about slow, medium, and fast lanes for fuel treatments: “If we want to start getting to the point with the National Forest Lands where we can say our stewardship is in the medium lane as far as fuels management then you’re going to need some more help in the resource department.”
Chief Vicki Christiansen, speaking to the Appropriations committee: “No. What I can speak to Congressman is the science. It is the policy of Congress and the Administration on how fast we go.”
(The Representative then seemed to become a little exasperated, perhaps wanting the Chief to say, “Yes, we could make more progress treating fuels if you could increase our funding.”)
Rep. Mark Amodei: “As a budget reality if this committee wants to help you with fuels, I’m just going to say it — you can disagree with me — we need to do better.”
Chief Vicki Christiansen: “We need to do better. We need to do better. We have more to do to make a difference, a significant difference, on the landscape.”
The need to do more was repeated in another discussion about treating fuels at 57:00. In a discussion with Representative Susie Lee (Nevada) the Chief said their data shows that when a wildfire spreads into an area that has been treated to reduce fuels, 86 percent of the time the fire behavior reduces significantly into a low-intensity fire. Their goal now, she said, is to “treat 40 percent of a fireshed in order to have a resilient forest.”
Rep. Susie Lee: “How realistic is it to be able to treat 40 percent of a fireshed?”
Chief Vicki Christiansen: “Well, that’s why we have to up our game two to three times what we are doing now. ”
Rep. Susie Lee: “OK.”
The Chief did not explain how she is going to increase fuels treatment by “two to three times” on stagnant funding.
Funding for aerial firefighting
At 34:05 in the video below Rep. Mike Simpson from Idaho was discussing aerial firefighting, and point blank asked — how much money do you need? She replied at the end of a long, off the subject meandering discourse, “We think we are really on the right track with our air tankers,” without mentioning budget needs.
“One thing I’ve been dealing with,” Rep. Simpson said, “are the aviation assets of the Forest Service… Are we going to have a clear outline for the next 10-year plan for what the Forest Service needs in terms of air assets? How the five and ten year contracts you’re looking at will affect us and benefit us and what we need to put into our budget to so that the Forest Service has the necessary equipment to address these wildfires?”
Chief Vicki Christiansen: “All great questions. But I have to say, you know it was, let me see, 16 years ago I was the new state forester in the state of Washington and my first time before this committee, you were ranking member………. [three and a half minutes later:] Relative to your question about air tankers, the contracting air tanker community has really come on line they are meeting our needs of contemporary air tanker capacity for wildland fire in the U.S. We are studying the question about going to a 10-year contract, what the pros and cons are. We’re nearly complete with that report. It will be going through clearance in a matter of a few days and it will be getting to the committee here shortly. So we’d be glad to discuss more about air tankers. But we think we are really on the right track with our air tankers. And thank you for being such a help and an advocate for getting us get the right resources.”
Rep. Mike Simpson: “Thank you.”
10-year contracts and fuel treatments
In December, 2020 Congress directed the Forest Service and the DOI to submit a report within 90 days that considered awarding 10 year contracts for aircraft available for wildland fire suppression activities.
These one-year firefighting aircraft contracts need to be converted to 10-year contracts, and the number of Type 1 helicopters must be restored to at least the 34 we had for years.
In addition to aircraft, the federal agencies need to have much more funding for activities that can prevent fires from starting and also keep them from turning into megafires that threaten lives, communities, and private land. More prescribed burning and other fuel treatments are absolutely necessary.
In Chief Christiansen’s five-page prepared testimony, several tech-related initiatives were mentioned:
We are also investing in several key technology and modernization portfolios; including, Data Management, Enhanced Real Time Operating Picture, Decision Support Applications, and Modern Tools for a Modern Response. Additionally, implementation of the Large Fire Assessment process, as directed by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus), is helping us better account for our actions while fostering a learning culture.
Chief Christiansen said (at 18:15 in the hearing) the agency is investing $8 million in a pilot program to utilize a system for tracking the location of firefighters. They are also standing up a program for Unmanned Aerial Systems by purchasing their first 20 aircraft.
The agency has signed an agreement with the Department of Defense and committed funds to access a system that uses satellites to detect fires “which already supported over 500 fires just this year alone in 2021.” She did not say if she was referring to the fiscal year which began October 1 or the calendar year.