Wildland fire plays an important ecological role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. However, wildland fires also burn millions of acres each year, cost billions of dollars, damage homes and critical natural resources, and result in deaths. The size and intensity of wildland fires have increased in recent decades, partly due to climate change, and many scientists and researchers expect fires to become larger and more severe in the future.
Five federal agencies are responsible for wildland fire management: USDA’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. A number of factors affect their ability to manage wildfires and mitigate the damage they can cause.
The increases in the size and severity of wildfires and in the length of fire seasons are straining the capacity of the federal wildland firefighting workforce. Federal agencies face a number of barriers to recruiting and retaining wildland firefighters, including low pay, career advancement challenges, and poor work-life balance—which can affect their ability to deploy a sufficient number of firefighters.
Smoke from wildfires has created hazardous and unhealthy air quality conditions for millions of Americans. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has partnered with the Forest Service and Interior to help communities deal with the smoke. One effort with the Forest Service produced an online map showing air quality, fire locations, and smoke direction. But EPA's actions have been ad hoc and spread across programs and regional offices. Better coordination could help target resources.
The federal government provides billions of dollars to help communities and individuals rebuild infrastructure damaged by wildfires, hurricanes, and other disasters and improve their resilience to future disasters. However, there are a number of opportunities for improvement, including making it easier to get disaster resilience grants. In addition, the Disaster Resilience Framework can help agencies identify opportunities to promote disaster resilience, which may help reduce future federal disaster costs.