Fuels management includes both planned prescribed burns and other treatments to change or reduce wildland fuels. The fuels management program of the National Park Service has become increasingly important for reducing the risk of severe wildland fire to human communities and for maintaining or improving the health of park ecosystems. Many of the wildland areas found in NPS units are characterized as fire-adapted or fire-dependent and thus require periodic fire to maintain a healthy, resilient condition. Within these ecosystems, prescribed fire can help restore and sustain long-term environmental health. Mechanical treatments, such as thinning, mowing, and removing excessive dead vegetation, may also be implemented to reduce hazardous fuels and restore ecosystem health. Prescribed fire and mechanical treatments are used to protect park visitors, park developments, and neighboring communities from destructive wildfires by reducing the fuels that otherwise contribute to destructive wildfires. Occasionally, by-products from hazardous fuel removals are used to create biomass fuels or products.
The National Park Service uses prescribed fire as a vegetation management tool in order to accomplish natural and cultural resource goals. Prescribed burns are ignited to:
- Reduce hazardous fuel loads near developed areas. Hazard fuel reduction around developed areas provides for firefighter safety and structure protection in the event of a wildfire.
- Restore and maintain natural landscapes, such as the Pine and Fir stands around Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.
- Maintain cultural landscapes, such as areas around St. Paul's Mission. Before any prescribed fire is permitted, the park must complete a strategic Fire Management Plan as well as a burn plan. Each planned fire must meet all the conditions identified in a go/no go checklist before ignition. When fire cannot be used, hazard fuel reduction may be accomplished with mechanical treatments such as saws and manual removal, or through other methods.
Post-Fire Rehabilitation and Recovery
While wildfires may be beneficial and cause little damage to the land, some fires create situations that require special efforts to prevent further problems after the fire. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; runoff may increase and cause flooding, sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs, and put endangered species and community water supplies at risk. Post-fire programs such as Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) addresses these situations with the goal of protecting life, property, water quality, and deteriorated ecosystems from further damage after the fire is out.