On-line Book
cover to America's National Park Service: The Critical Documents
Cover Page


Table of Contents


The Early Years,

Defining The System,

The New Deal Years,

The Poverty Years,

Questions of
Resource Management

The Ecological Revolution,

Transformation and

A System Threatened,

Summaries of
Lengthy Documents

About the Editor

America's National Park System:
The Critical Documents
Chapter 8:
A System Threatened, 1981 - 1992
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Departments of the Interior and Agriculture


The Fire Management Policy Review Team was established on September 28, 1988 to review national policies and their application for fire management in national parks and wilderness and to recommend actions to address the problems experienced during the 1988 fire season. The Team draft report was submitted to the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture on December 15, 1988. A 60 day public review and comment period, incorporating a series of public hearings, began with publication of that report in the Federal Register on December 20, 1988. Having reviewed and considered the public comments, this final report is submitted in culmination of the Team's charter.

The Fire Management Policy Review Team finds that:

  • The objectives of prescribed natural fire programs in national parks and wildernesses are sound, but the policies need to be refined, strengthened, and reaffirmed. These policies permit fires to burn under predetermined conditions.
  • Many current fire management plans do not meet current policies; the prescriptions in them are inadequate; and decision-making needs to be tightened.
  • There are risks inherent in managing wildland fires. These risks can be reduced by careful planning and preparation. Use of planned burning and other efforts to reduce hazard fuels near high value structures and to create fuel breaks along boundaries help to reduce risks from both prescribed natural fires and wildfires.
  • The ecological effects of prescribed natural fire support resource objectives in parks and wilderness, but in some cases the social and economic effects may be unacceptable. Prescribed natural fires may affect permitted uses of parks and wilderness, such as recreation, and impact outside areas through such phenomena as smoke and stream sedimentation.
  • Dissemination of information before and during prescribed natural fires needs to be improved. There needs to be greater public participation in the development of fire management plans.
  • Internal management processes, such as training more personnel, developing uniform terminology, and utilizing similar budget structures, would significantly improve fire management.
  • Claims were heard that some managers support "naturalness" above all else, allowing fires to burn outside of prescription requirements without appropriate suppression actions.

The Team recommends that:

  • Prescribed natural fire policies in the agencies be reaffirmed and strengthened.
  • Fire management plans be reviewed to assure that current policy requirements are met and expanded to include interagency planning, stronger prescriptions, and additional decision criteria.
  • Line officers certify daily that adequate resources are available to ensure that prescribed fires will remain within prescription, given reasonably foreseeable weather conditions and fire behavior.
  • Agencies develop contingency plans to constrain the use of prescribed fire in the event or anticipation of unfavorable weather or fire conditions, or when necessary to balance competing demands for scarce fire suppression resources.
  • Agencies consider opportunities to use management ignited prescribed fires to complement prescribed natural fire programs and to reduce hazard fuels.
  • Agencies utilize the National Environmental Policy Act requirements in fire management planning to increase opportunities for public involvement and coordination with state and local government.
  • Agencies provide more and better training to assure an adequate supply of knowledgeable personnel for fire management programs.
  • Agencies review funding methods for prescribed fire programs and fire suppression to improve interagency program effectiveness.
  • Additional research and analysis relating to weather, fire behavior, fire history, fire information integration, post-fire effects, and other topics be carried out so that future fire management programs can be carried out more effectively and with less risk.
  • Allegations of misuse of policy be promptly investigated and acted upon as may be appropriate.

Provided by the Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park.

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