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NPS Archeology Guide > Cultural Resources and Fire > 12. Monitoring

Cultural Resources Monitoring and Fire

The NPS wildland fire management program has grown in scope and complexity over the past decade as high volumes of standing fuels and climate change increase the frequency of wildfires. Changes in Federal policy concerning prescriptive burns, new political initiatives, and increased planning requirements have all resulted in a greater need for scientific information that supports fire management activities. Monitoring fire effects provides scientific capabilities for collecting and analyzing fire effects data for adaptive management.

Monitoring promotes both short and long-term success of cultural resource protection measures, so that the effects of fire can be accurately determined. This can prevent excessive and unsubstantiated claims of damage from fire and fire suppression, as well as determining the true effects of fire and the effectiveness of treatment measures.

Monitoring is essential to:

Cultural resource monitoring is a necessary part of an effective fire program. The cultural resource content of a fire management plan includes a description of monitoring procedures that will be carried out for prescribed fire burn projects, mechanical fuel reduction projects, wildfire suppression activities, and post-fire rehabilitation and stabilization projects.

Systematic monitoring identifies unanticipated affects and discoveries resulting from fire management activities. Procedures for measuring the effectiveness of stabilization and rehabilitation activities and for reporting and recording previously unidentified cultural resources are included in the wildland fire management plan.

This section of Cultural Resources and Fire provides information for cultural resource managers in parks, regions, and centers; wildland fire program managers, and park superintendents to ensure that cultural resources are considered when planning and implementing projects to restore resources damaged by wildland fires.

Scheduling Monitoring Activities

All NPS units applying prescribed fire using wildland fire for management purposes or altering the arrangement of wildland fuels for the purpose of modifying wildfire behavior prepare a fire monitoring plan or plans. The monitoring plan describes in detail how the monitoring will be conducted. The cultural resource manager works with the park fire ecologist to develop monitoring designs that are described in the monitoring plan elements (RM—18: Chapter 8, Exhibit 2). The goals and criteria for post-fire monitoring are identified and any programmatic agreements about fire-related activities are listed. The protocol discusses sampling procedures and how the results of post-fire monitoring will be reported and used.

Scheduling targets periods and conditions of maximum ground visibility (e.g., after the first post-fire rain or substantial wind that exposes mineral soils; before new vegetation obscures the ground surface; etc.). A monitoring schedule facilitates the assessment of the effects of the fire activity before, during, and after a fire or non-fire fuel reduction activity. Post-fire monitoring is conducted soon after a fire, particularly if the fire occurs in the fall or early winter and rain and snow is anticipated.

Monitoring During Fuel Reduction Activities

Pre-Burn Monitoring

Pre-burn recording of the condition of known cultural resources for which treatment measures have been applied is essential for establishing a comparative baseline to determine the effectiveness of the treatment measures that are applied. Such information is also useful for determining the effects of wildland fires and fire suppression. The cultural resource content of the park fire management plan and protocols for fuels management projects identifies the manner in which pre-burn cultural resource conditions will be documented. The pre-burn monitoring for cultural resources is conducted by a cultural resource staff with the appropriate professional qualifications (see the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Archeology and Historic Preservation).

Activity Monitoring

Direct monitoring of fires as they burn over or around cultural resources may or may not be possible, depending on safety issues. Direct observation, obviously, is best for recording specific information regarding the nature of the fire behavior (e.g., flame height, fire mosaic, residence time), although there are surrogate measures for fire behavior and heating. The use of monitoring forms for prescribed fire ensures that observations are both standard and complete. Burn monitors must have appropriate fire-fighting training and, preferably, READ training.

Post-fire Monitoring

Post-fire monitoring may be carried out by cultural resource staff or appropriately-trained non-cultural resource staff. Site steward programs, other types of volunteer programs, or park law enforcement personnel are encouraged to work with the cultural resource manager to inspect burned areas on a regular basis for cultural resource degradation. Post-fire monitoring of prescribed and wildland fires is crucial to:

NPS Technical Brief 22: Developing and Implementing Archeological Site Stewardship Programs has much information about establishing and maintaining volunteer cultural resource monitoring programs.