The fuels program supports the strategic removal of grasses, shrubs, and trees to restore and maintain ecosystems and limit the negative impacts of wildfires.
Managing fuel and risk: prescribed fires like this one at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge reduce the chance of a catastrophic wildfire destroying nearby homes. (Michael Good/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
1.9 million: number of acres treated by Interior in Fiscal Year 2021
$220 million: money spent by this program in Fiscal Year 2021
1,344: number of FTE* funded by this program in Fiscal Year 2021
* FTE (full-time equivalent) is the annual number of "work years" produced by employees. A "work year" is roughly 2,080 hours. Reporting personnel in this way enables a common view of the workforce across government agencies.
Anything that can burn is fuel for a fire. During a wildland fire all kinds of plant material can act as fuel, including grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves, and fallen pine needles. As these burnable materials pile up, so do the chances of catastrophic wildland fire. In the right conditions, excess fuel allows fires to burn hotter, larger, longer, and faster, making them more difficult and dangerous to manage.
We manage fuels to restore and maintain ecosystems.
Wildland fires can be devastating, but not all fire is bad. Fire plays a natural and necessary role in many landscapes. Periodic low-intensity fires speed up the process of forest decomposition, create open patches for new plants to grow, improve habitat and food for animals and deliver nutrients to the plants that survive. Some research indicates fire may also improve ground water recharge and water flow to aquatic habitats. They build resilience to fires by reducing immature trees, brush, dead branches and limbs (a.k.a. ladder fuels) and creating a mosaic of burned, partially-burned, and unburned areas (which makes it less likely that future fires will torch an entire landscape). Some trees, like lodgepole pine, require the heat of flames to open up their cones and disperse new seeds.
We manage fuels to reduce the chances that lives or property will be lost to wildfire.
Houses and other developments near grasslands, forests, or other undeveloped areas (a.k.a. the wildland urban interface) are vulnerable to wildfires because they’re essentially surrounded by fuel. The extent and density of vegetation around a structure influence the ability of firefighters to prevent it from burning in a wildfire. Wildfire can also damage or disrupt utility services (power, gas, communication, transportation). Fuels treatments make unwanted wildfires less likely and easier to manage. By learning to live with fire we improve public and firefighter safety and reduce the impacts of fire when it occurs. Learn more about fire-adapted communities.
We manage fuels to improve the efficiency and safety of wildfire suppression.
The cost of putting out unwanted wildland fire remains the biggest line item in our annual budget. Reducing fuels makes wildfires less intense and easier to control with fewer people, making it one of the most effective ways to build an efficient, proactive program to safely manage wildfire.
Reducing the fuel load: firefighters tend burn piles left from a forest thinning project at Grand Canyon National Park. (Michael Quinn, National Park Service)
Managing fuels means reducing their availability to feed a wildfire. We do this by:
Fuel treatment projects occur year-round depending upon location, vegetation type, weather, and many other factors.
Since wildfires burn without regard for administrative boundaries or land ownership, we plan fuel management projects with multiple partners, including other Federal agencies, Tribes, States, counties, local organizations, and private landowners. These partnerships foster a holistic, "all hands, all lands" approach to wildland fire management that recognizes the importance of shared goals on shared landscapes. Through partnerships we work more efficiently, cost taxpayers less money, make sure projects meet local needs, and help communities become more resilient to wildland fire.
We evaluate projects based on the following objectives:
Staff in the Office of Wildland Fire help manage a number of interagency planning tools to support this work. The Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools Project (known as LANDFIRE) provides detailed maps and data about vegetation and fuel types for the entire country so we can identify where work needs to be done. The Interagency Fuel Treatment Decision Support System helps us plan and model the effects of a project by analyzing the effectiveness of past treatments and estimating future risk reduction. And the National Fire Plan Operations & Reporting System helps us track the work across public and Tribal lands. Learn more about the technology behind wildland fire management.
Fuel treatment projects are carried out by staff in the four Department of the Interior bureaus with wildland fire management responsibilities: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We also work in tandem with our many partners.
Helping individuals and communities to adapt to, prepare for, and respond to wildfire is an important part of what we do. The Department of the Interior fosters and supports this by:
These efforts support the goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which emphasizes an “all-hands, all-lands” approach to managing wildland fire through community engagement and partnerships. Learn more at forestsandrangelands.gov.