Cultural Resources and Post-Wildland Fire Programs

National parks are responsible for taking prompt action to determine their needs to protect, stabilize, and prevent unacceptable resource degradation after a wildland fire. The protection of cultural resources is an integral part of this effort. Following a wildfire, the cultural resource manager for the park may be presented with stewardship challenges ranging from erosion to invasive species.

The wildland fire suppression incident response team is responsible for repair of resources from damage caused directly by suppression activities, but many cultural resources suffer damage directly or indirectly from fire or sustain damage more extensive than the fire suppression team can address. In these instances, resources in the NPS Post-Fire Program can help to repair damage. The post-fire management program takes immediate actions to minimize threats to life and property and to prevent unacceptable resource degradation resulting from a wildfire.

This section of Cultural Resources and Fire provides direction for implementation of post-wildland fire activities to protect cultural resources, but focuses on Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) as key to long term recovery success and preservation. The section is intended for cultural resource managers to obtain resources to protect cultural resources after a wildfire.

Planning for Post-Fire Cultural Resource Needs

Cultural resource management after a wildland fire begins with planning. Cultural resource and wildland fire program managers work together to ensure that the following information is included in planning documents:

  • Cultural resource protection goals and measurable objectives for cultural resource recovery;

  • Key internal and external agency contacts to aid in mitigation planning and implementation.

Cultural resource managers become involved in post-fire treatment planning as early as possible. During the planning process, cultural resource managers determine whether significant cultural resources may be affected by wildland fire and fire-related activities and document the types of protection and mitigation that will be needed in the event of a fire. Pre-planning for emergency stabilization may include identifying the locations of critical resources that might be threatened by post-fire events such as flooding, landslides, erosion, or debris flows, and specifying the types of treatments to be carried out or excluded.

In addition to developing information for wildland fire planning documents, cultural resource and wildland fire program managers hold a pre-fire season meeting with emergency stabilization and rehabilitation technical specialists, cultural resource advisors (READs), wildland fire management staff, and other appropriate personnel to discuss roles and responsibilities, to clarify areas of disagreement and/or confusion, and to annually review and update the rehabilitation and restoration section of the fire management plan.

More information about wildland fire management planning and cultural resources may be found in Wildland Fire Planning and Cultural Resources.

The Post-Fire Program and Compliance with Federal Cultural Resource Laws

The post-fire program activities are Federal undertakings and, as such, must comply with Federal cultural resource laws and policies, and Executive Order 13175. Compliance includes consultation to share plans for restoring and protecting cultural resources after a fire and to elicit information. It is important to be able to demonstrate that comments and concerns have been taken into consideration when planning and implementing post-fire program projects. Consultations take place when the project is proposed, and may be held again just prior to implementation. Consultations with federally-recognized Indian tribes are conducted on a government-to-government basis and cannot be delegated to any nonfederal entity.

The cultural resource manager becomes involved in treatment planning as early as possible, and ensures that emergency and long-term stabilization treatments are included. Additional guidance on compliance with Federal cultural resource laws and policies, and Executive Order may be found at Fire Management and Cultural Resource Laws.

Post-fire cultural resource specialists funded by fire programs do not assess damages to cultural resources caused directly by a wildland fire (i.e. fire damage). Rather, post-fire specialists assess whether post-fire protection measures are warranted to protect cultural resources from further effects.

Post-Fire Program Components

There are four post-fire program components:

  • Wildland Fire Suppression Rehabilitation

  • Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) (also called Emergency Stabilization (ES))

  • Burned Area Rehabilitation

  • Restoration

Each has its own funding source and meets different objectives. While all are dedicated to restoring the environment after a fire, the components address different aspects of fire recovery, and are implemented sequentially.

Fire Suppression Rehabilitation (also called Suppression Rehab)

Fire suppression rehabilitation consists of actions taken to repair damage to cultural resources resulting from wildfire suppression actions (e.g. dozer lines, hand lines, safety zones, etc.). Repair of wildfire suppression activity damage is the incident management team’s responsibility. Repair actions are carried out as soon as possible prior to demobilization. However, some actions are conducted by the park following containment and incident management team demobilization. The incident command team must document the completed fire suppression activity repair actions and those still needed to ensure that all planned actions are completed during transition back to the local unit. Costs for suppression rehabilitation are part of the budget for the fire response.

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) (also called Emergency Stabilization)

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) consists of planned actions taken to minimize threats to life or property and to stabilize post-fire resource degradation resulting from the effects of a wildfire. The actions are planned and initiated within seven days from containment of the fire and need to be completed within one calendar year from fire containment. Funding for BAER is provided by NPS Fire and Aviation Management (FAM). This component of the post-fire program is most often utilized to repair damage to cultural resources, and will be discussed more extensively below. To prepare competitive funding proposals, cultural resource managers are encouraged to contact the regional BAER coordinator as noted in the Staff Functions section below.

Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR)

This program component consists of non-emergency efforts to repair or improve wildfire-damaged lands unlikely to recover naturally, or to repair or replace minor facilities damaged by wildfire. The objectives of BAR are:

  • To evaluate current and potential long-term post-wildfire impacts to critical cultural and natural resources and to identify those areas unlikely to recover naturally from severe wildfire damage;

  • To develop and implement cost-effective plans to emulate historical or pre-wildfire ecosystem structure, function, diversity, and dynamics consistent with approved land management plans or, if that is unfeasible, to restore or establish a healthy, stable ecosystem in which native species are well represented; and

  • To repair or replace minor facilities damaged by wildfire.

BAR funds may also be used to ensure burned area rehabilitation treatments conform to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Funding for BAR activity is competitive among bureaus on a priority basis and is awarded based on proposed projects submitted through the National Fire Plan Operations and Reporting System (NFPORS). The competitive funding awards are managed by the DOI National Burned Area Rehabilitation Coordinators using established common criteria to rank proposals as found on the Department of the Interior Emergency Stabilization and Burned Area Rehabilitation web site. The awards are conferred at the beginning of the fiscal year and are normally funded the fiscal year following the wildfire. If funds are available after the initial distribution they become contingency funds that are distributed on a quarterly basis until exhausted. Treatments and activities are funded in one-year increments for a maximum of three years. While there is no guarantee that subsequent year projects are funded, continuation of previous year funded projects is a priority in the BAR Funding Criteria.

NPS Post-Fire Program Components

Suppression Rehabilitation

(Emergency Stabilization)

Burned Area Rehabilitation



Repair fire suppression damages

Protect life and property

Repair damages

Long-term ecosystem restoration

Damage due to:

Suppression activities

Post-fire events




Before incident closeout

1-12 months

1-3 years

3 + years


Incident manager

Park Superintendent

Park Superintendent


Funding type:

Fire and Aviation Program:

Fire and Aviation Program:
Emergency Stabilization

Department of the Interior:

Park Resources


Restoration is the continuation of burned area rehabilitation treatments after the three year funding window of the BAR program expires. There are no dedicated funds for restoration. The park unit has to reprioritize funds from other accounts or seek supplemental funding to carry out wildfire restoration activities.

Planning for BAER and BAR Activities

The park cultural resource manager should ensure that a report of suppression activity effects on cultural resources in the park is completed by the incident command team. The report is made available to the BAER team to assist in identification and assessment of fire effects. The need for prompt and effective emergency stabilization and rehabilitation measures after a wildland fire requires an assessment and plan. The BAER and BAR components of the post-fire program facilitate the development of the assessment and plan in order to develop treatment options for cultural resources following a fire. BAER and BAR funds for post-wildfire treatments and activities will only be allocated for actions identified in approved plans. Appropriate repair activities and important sites to be protected should be included in the wildland fire management plan.

The prescriptions are written into a plan developed immediately after a wildland fire. The plan's elements outline the treatment objectives and the specific measures that will meet those objectives. Whenever possible, treatment objectives have measurable criteria that can be monitored to determine the effectiveness of the treatments.

The BAER team begins preparation of a plan, based upon the results of the burned area assessments and park personnel's input. Development of the BAER plan generally involves three steps: (1) determining whether problems are treatable; (2) ranking and prioritizing cultural resources for treatment; and (3) developing treatment plans for individual resources.

The park superintendent is responsible for BAER and BAR plan development, which may include assembling an interdisciplinary planning team to conduct burned area assessments. The team is assembled and ready to work within sufficient time to complete the plan to meet anticipated damaging rain events and agency timelines. By policy, the emergency stabilization plan needs to be completed within seven days of the containment of the fire. If additional time is needed, extensions may be negotiated with those having approval authority.

Wildland Fire Planning and Cultural Resources contains more information about wildland fire planning.

BAER Activities to Protect Cultural Resources

Of the four post-fire program components, BAER is the primary component to protect park cultural resources that have been affected by wildfire. However:

  • BAER assessments and treatments are limited to cultural resources identified and documented before the wildfire occurred, and to sites that are discovered incidentally while assessing and treating documented sites.

  • BAER funds cannot be used to conduct systematic surveys of a burned area to document sites that may have been exposed by a wildfire unless the surveys are conducted for environmental compliance and to ensure emergency stabilization treatments conform to NHPA Section 106 and NEPA.

  • BAER funds may be used to assess whether known historic properties may be further degraded by post-fire effects of a wildfire. However, BAER program funds cannot be used to assess damage to cultural resources caused directly by the fire.

  • BAER funds cannot be used for data recovery, cataloging, and other programmatic administration actions or cultural resources restoration.

BAER Teams

Post-fire issues are identified by specialists organized into Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams. The interdisciplinary teams conduct post-fire evaluations to look at all aspects of fire effects on watershed and related resources, such as soils, hydrology engineering, wildlife, fisheries, cultural resources, range, timber, and recreation. A BAER team is assembled to:

  • Assess on-the-ground conditions;

  • Identify and define emergencies;

  • Prescribe rehabilitation measures; and

  • Assist local resource management specialists or wildland fire READs in recommending both long- and short-term treatment strategies.

BAER teams are scalable in size and are multidisciplinary. Their composition and size varies according to the nature of the wildland fire and relevant natural and cultural resource issues. The BAER team may be composed of people from inside or outside the park or be a standing or ad hoc group of technical or scientific specialists. BAER teams can be national and multi-agency, regional, specific to one agency, or assembled for a particular wildland fire incident.

The BAER Process

The BAER process may be organized into a series of four tasks as follows:

  • Survey and Assess Damage. Identify emergency conditions and possible treatments;

  • Planning. Prioritize problems, determine if problems are treatable, and develop measurable treatment objectives for a BAER Plan;

  • Implement Treatment. Prescribe and do work using treatment plans and standards; and

  • Monitor Effectiveness. Inspect treatment locations to determine whether treatment measures were effective in preventing/minimizing damage.

Survey and Assess Damage

Damage assessment begins as soon as possible after the burned area is accessible so that treatments can be implemented before irreparable damage to cultural resources occurs. During the damage assessment, enough information is collected to effectively determine treatment needed. Damage assessment allows personnel to locate and respond to the most important and urgent endangered cultural resources.

The scale of the damage assessment effort will vary tremendously from fire to fire, depending on the size, complexity, intensity, and extent of damage imparted. Damage assessment efforts for large and devastating fires in areas with abundant cultural resources may require the investment of considerable time and labor.

Review of Current Available Resources

Before survey or site visits are conducted, the cultural resource specialist on the BAER team gathers available information on cultural resources within the burn area. In many cases, such information is indispensable in identifying the resources that are appropriate to visit. Existing information may include pre-fire descriptions of cultural resources that are valuable in discriminating previous conditions from those caused by the fire. If the BAER team is assembled from outside the park, it may be necessary to consult the cultural resource manager in the park, region, or center to obtain information on cultural resources within the burn area.

Survey and Assessment

Assessing the damage potential for cultural resources may require surface survey, but post-fire funding will only support cultural resource survey under a narrow range of circumstances. Surveys of burned areas that are not subject to other emergency stabilization activities are generally not funded by BAER. Many unidentified cultural resources may have burned, but this does not mean that BAER funds can be used to locate such resources. Generally, areas selected for BAER-funded survey meet one of the following criteria:

  • There is a reasonable basis for suspecting that an area may be experiencing erosion or ongoing damage prior to conducting cultural resource survey. Areas may be surveyed if they are subject to ongoing erosion and are to be treated by emergency stabilization activities to prevent further damage. Coordination with other specialists (hydrologists, soils engineers, etc.) is the most common avenue of learning of assessment areas and the need for survey. Burn intensity maps prepared as an aspect of post-fire activities may delineate such areas.

  • Previously un-surveyed areas may be surveyed for cultural resources if such areas are proposed for emergency stabilization activities that may damage cultural resources (e.g., road construction, water bars). Such activities are usually ground-disturbing in nature.

Site Visits

Known and previously recorded cultural resources may be revisited to check for fire damage and to scope treatments, but the intent of field visits is to collect information for determining critical and immediate treatment needs. Site visits are made only if there is a reasonable basis to believe that sites are subject to ongoing damage that can be stopped, prevented, or minimized by treatments.

Damage that has already occurred, with no risk of additional damage related to the fire, is not sufficient justification for site visitation. For example, cracked groundstone or fractured historic glass cannot be repaired through emergency stabilization treatments and, unless the site on which it occurs is threatened by erosion or other fire-caused impact, a site visit is inappropriate for BAER funding. On the other hand, if there is a reason to believe that an elevated terrace containing such materials is sensitive to post-fire erosion, then a site visit would be well within the purview of post-fire activities.

Data Collection

Post-fire damage assessments collect information regarding the need for emergency stabilization and long-term rehabilitation. Damage assessment are conducted as soon as possible after a fire. Collection of research or evaluative data can slow this process, potentially endangering cultural resources through delayed action. Data collection focuses on the ongoing and potential damage. Determining whether damage is occurring to a site is necessary to monitor changes in condition. This may require the establishment of benchmarks for noting change. Recording the existing condition of sites and the specific nature of past/existing fire damage documents ongoing damage.

A description of the physical characteristics of the cultural resources that are affected is important for determining whether treatment is possible. Observations that may be relevant or necessary to determining the potential threat of damage to cultural resources resulting from wildfires include:

  • Burn severity at and surrounding the site (important in determining erosion potential);

  • Physical characteristics of cultural resources that were burned and the severity of the damage (damage to surface soils, subsurface soil damage, structural remains damaged, etc.);

  • Location of the property with regard to flood potential;

  • Pre-fire vegetation (such as trees with extensive root systems);

  • Nature and percentage of remaining effective soil cover (organic duff is gone, standing water is present);

  • Presence of stump holes, hazardous trees, evidence of wind or water erosion;

  • Fire-suppression damage;

  • Loss of protective screening (enhancing exposure to vandalism);

  • Access to the cultural resource (important in determining feasibility of treatment);

  • Changes in streambed (debris jams, boulder deposits, gravel bars).

Planning Treatment Alternatives

The damage assessment provides information for choosing treatment options to avert or minimize threats to cultural resources. Final decisions regarding treatment are made during the planning step after the damage assessments are completed, when priorities are established, based on treatment costs and values to be protected.

The primary threat to a cultural resource may be a fire-caused phenomenon such as erosion or it may be the actions taken to stem that erosion. Treatment measures can be used to prevent damage to cultural resources, but treatment measures targeted at other problems may present the threat of damage to cultural resources as well. Treatment measures that do not involve ground disturbance are generally preferred. New methods are applied where they may provide greater protection or may be more cost effective than more traditional methods. Monitoring may be necessary to determine the effectiveness of new methods.

A variety of stabilization measures may be applied. Erosion control treatments are applied by fire crews to prevent immediate damage from water runoff after fires. For example, trails are often water-barred; roads are ditched and re-graded; fire roads may be cross-ditched to prevent gullies and limit access; and hazard trees may be cut. Other treatments include stabilization of hillsides and watersheds to prevent erosion and flooding, enlargement of culverts to control runoff, replacing fences, and reseeding of areas.

Erosion prevention treatments include mulches, geo-textures, contour trenches, straw bale check dams, silt fences, and channel debris removal. Protection strategies are based on recognition that an emergency cannot be prevented by direct application of prevention treatments to flood/debris flow source areas. Protection strategies may include point protection or are treatments designed to control an emergency when it happens, to slow or delay flood flows, to redistribute sediment loads, and to directly control flood runoff within channels. They may also trap and stabilize in-channel sediments, control down-cutting, maintain the integrity of channel morphology, and minimize flash flooding.

It is important to know the cost of implementing treatment measures when considering whether those treatments are feasible and appropriate. There will always be limited resources for BAER activities, so priorities have to be established. If treatment of resources is extremely expensive, then the cost of treatment will be considered against other possible treatments and the value of the resource in determining whether such treatment is warranted. The cost of treatment includes labor, materials, transportation, support services, and any ancillary costs that might be associated, such as monitoring. A cost/risk analysis of proposed treatment actions is included in each damage assessment to assist decision-makers and reviewing authorities in assessing the proposed actions. It should be kept in mind, however, that cultural resources are non-renewable. The value of a site as a traditional cultural place or as a representative of a particular site type may be significant.

If methods of cultural resource avoidance or protection are not feasible or practical, data recovery might be considered. However, data recovery is implemented only if other treatments will not prevent or minimize damage to a cultural resource.

Treatment Implementation

Actions to implement emergency stabilization treatments should begin immediately upon plan approval. Implementation should begin as soon as necessary to complete the treatment prior to the rainy season, onset of winter, weather, or other shutdowns. Potential delays or issues should be addressed early in the implementation process to facilitate completion of treatments at the proper time to ensure maximum probability of success.

Treatments must conform to Federal procurement laws, rules and regulations and agency and Departmental manuals. The initial approved emergency stabilization spending authority is issued for the period up to one year following containment of the wildfire (monitoring and failed treatment maintenance may continue for up to three years). After submission of the final accomplishment report or the emergency stabilization funding time limit lapses (whichever comes first), appropriate emergency stabilization obligations cease and unspent funding authority is withdrawn.

Monitoring Treatment Effectiveness

Monitoring is necessary to ensure both the short and long-term success of cultural resource protection measures. Surveillance identifies unanticipated affects and discoveries resulting from fire management activities. Cultural resource monitoring in fire management plans includes schedules for monitoring areas affected by fuels reduction activities, wildfire suppression, and by stabilization and rehabilitation activities. Procedures for measuring the effectiveness of stabilization and rehabilitation activities and for reporting and recording previously unidentified archeological sites are included. It is in the interest of both the cultural resource manager and park superintendent to conduct monitoring so that the effects of BAER treatment can be accurately determined.

After completion, BAER projects are monitored to determine whether a treatment achieved its objective (for example, log erosion barriers and straw mulching stabilized soils to protect cultural resources). Cultural Resource Monitoring and Fire provides more information about monitoring after wildland fires.

Post-Fire Program Staff Functions

The duties and responsibilities to manage post-fire program components are assigned as follows:

  • Park Staff. Except for suppression damage repair, the responsibility for post-fire programs is delegated to the park superintendent. After a wildfire, park staff assess the fire to determine post-fire issues. They may contact the regional BAER coordinator for technical assistance and program direction.

  • Regional Burned Area Emergency Response Coordinator. BAER Regional coordinators serve as the primary contact for park staff for post-fire funding questions. They organize and screen project submissions, provide practical application feedback to the National BAER Coordinator on established policies and procedures, and provide oversight on project level information, budget requests, and policy compliance. To prepare competitive proposals, parks need to work closely with the regional BAER coordinator. For a current listing of regional BAER Coordinators, refer to the InsideNPS BAER website.

  • National Burned Area Emergency Response Coordinators. The national BAER coordinators develops business rules, policy, operational procedures, data standards, budget recommendations, and interagency coordination. They work closely with the regional coordinators when preparing post-fire funding requests.

The DOI National BAER Coordinating group includes a representative from each wildland fire agency. At the beginning of each fiscal year, the group ranks all BAER projects in a competitive and rigorous process in coordination with the Department of Interior in order to distribute funds.


Employee and public safety is the first priority in every management activity. All planning and implementation activities must reflect this commitment. A job hazard analysis needs to be prepared for each incident activity.

Part of a series of articles titled NPS Archeology Guide: Cultural Resources and Fire.

Last updated: August 31, 2021