Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken Important Steps Forward, but Additiona, Strategic Action Is needed to Capitalize on Those Steps

This Government Accountability Office Report (GAO-09-877) dated September 2009 finds that the Forest Service and the Interior agencies have improved their understanding of wildland fire’s ecological role on the landscape and have taken important steps toward enhancing their ability to cost-effectively protect communities and resources.

However, much work remains. GAO has recommended several key actions—including development of an overarching fire management strategy—that, if completed, would substantially improve the agencies’ management of wildland fire. Nonetheless, the agencies have yet to:
• Develop a cohesive strategy laying out various potential approaches for addressing the growing wildland fire threat, estimated costs associated with each approach, and the trade-offs involved. Such information would help the agencies and Congress make fundamental decisions about an effective and affordable approach to responding to fires.
• Establish a cost-containment strategy that clarifies the importance of containing costs relative to other, often-competing objectives. Without such clarification, GAO believes managers in the field lack a clear understanding of the relative importance that the agencies’ leadership places on containing costs and are therefore likely to continue to select firefighting strategies without duly considering the costs of suppression.
• Clarify financial responsibilities for fires that cross federal, state, and local
jurisdictions. Unless the financial responsibilities for multijurisdictional fires are clarified, concerns that the existing framework insulates nonfederal entities from the cost of protecting the wildland-urban interface—and that the federal government would therefore continue to bear more than its share of the cost—are unlikely to be addressed.
• Take action to mitigate the effects of rising fire costs on other agency programs. The sharply rising costs of managing wildland fires have led the agencies to transfer funds from other programs to help pay for fire suppression, disrupting or delaying activities in these other programs.
• Better methods of predicting needed suppression funding could reduce
the need to transfer funds from other programs.

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