Wilderness Connect, housed on the University of Montana campus, acknowledges that we are on the traditional lands of the Salish and Kalispel peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout many generations and are its past, present, and future caretakers.
The Fire Management toolbox contains resources for managing fire in wilderness. It provides information on agency policy and strategies, wilderness fire planning, fire resource advisor training, research, and other references. Contact us to suggest new materials for inclusion.
Basis in the Wilderness Act and Subsequent Wilderness Legislation
The following information was extracted from the Carhart Online Course: Managing Special Provisions: Fire in Wilderness.
For further information please take the online course: Managing Special Provisions: Fire in Wilderness
Section 2 (c) of the Wilderness Act
Section 2 (c) of the Wilderness Act states that wilderness is to be "protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable..."
So the challenge of managing fire in wilderness is two-fold:
One - What is the natural role of fire in your wilderness? Two - How, if at all, should a particular fire be controlled?
Wildfire is a natural process in some ecosystems ("Fire-Dependent"), but fire management policy in the past was mostly about suppression. Fires were suppressed in both wilderness and non-wilderness. In systems where fire is an important natural process, these decisions to suppress wildfire in the past have had long-term consequences in the present, including dramatically increased fuel loads and shifts in natural species composition and distribution.
Some ecosystems that evolved without the presence of landscape-sized fire ("Fire-Independent") may now be at risk due to the spread of flammable non-native annual grasses (such as buffle grass or the exotic Bromus species such as red brome and cheatgrass), and through the introduction of human ignitions from recreational use, arson, and other sources. In those instances, wildfire threatens to become an unnatural process and fire control is essential to maintaining the largely fire-free conditions under which these ecosystems evolved.
You need to know not only what the natural role of fire is in your wilderness, but how far the current conditions are a departure from the natural conditions.
According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, "Wilderness [retains] its primeval character and influence [and] generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature." In certain environments, such as fire-dependent ecosystems, fire can be a powerful natural force. Allowing fires to burn in these wilderness areas preserves wilderness character, while allowing fire to burn in other areas negatively impacts wilderness character. Conversely, suppressing natural fires in fire-dependent wilderness ecosystems is a form of trammeling. The effects of wildfire on wilderness character will vary depending on whether the fire is in an unaltered fire-dependent ecosystem, a human-altered system (e.g. where past fire suppression has significantly changed the natural character), or a fire-independent ecosystem.
Section 4(d)(1) of the Wilderness Act states (in part)
"Such measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire...subject to such conditions as the Secretary deems desirable."
What is meant by "the control of fire"? What actions comprise "control"? And just what types of conditions are included in the general term of "fire"? There is little doubt that the original intent of the word "fire" is what we now call "wildfire." When the Act was passed in 1964, agency-ignited prescribed fires were rare occurrences, and wildfires were generally considered harmful. However, since at least 1978, Congress has seemed to embrace a broader definition of "control":
House Report 95-540 accompanied the bill which became P.L. 95-237 (Endangered American Wilderness Act of 1978). It read in part:
"Section 4(d)(1) of the Wilderness Act permits any measures necessary to control fire, insect outbreaks or disease in wilderness areas. This includes the use of mechanized equipment, the building of fire roads, fire towers, fire breaks or fire pre-suppression facilities where necessary, and other techniques for fire control. In short, anything necessary for the protection of the public health or safety is clearly permissible" (emphasis added).
P.L. 95-237 authorized "whatever appropriate actions are necessary for fire prevention and watershed protection [including] acceptable fire pre-suppression and fire suppression measures and techniques" for two specific wilderness areas. House Report 95-540 makes it clear that, "The uses authorized by such special management language should not be construed by any agency or judicial authority as being precluded in other wilderness areas, but should be considered as a direction and reaffirmation of congressional policy" (emphasis added).
House Report 98-40 accompanied the bill which became PL 98-425 (California Wilderness Act of 1984). It read in part: "Prescribed burning could prove to be an especially significant fire pre-suppression method, particularly in cases where a history of past fire suppression policies have allowed 'unnatural' accumulations of dead or live fuel...to build up to hazardous levels. Controlled burning...may have the advantage of producing fewer long term adverse impacts (and possibly beneficial impacts) on wilderness values than would the construction of roads or similar intrusions...Obviously, such measures should, to the maximum extent practicable, be implemented consistent with maintaining the wilderness character of areas, while at the same time protecting the public health and safety and protecting private property located immediately adjacent to wilderness areas" (emphasis added).
Policy and Guidelines
- Chapter 1 2 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and Doctrine 3 Overview
- National Fire Plan, 2000
- Interagency Standards for Fire and Aviation Operations (Red Book 2021)
- Interagency BAER Guidebook (February 2006)
- NWCG Resource Advisor Guide (PMS 313, August 2017) Minimum Impact Strategies and Tactics Guidelines (Appendix J; pages 72-78)
Fire Management Plans
Fire Suppression Repair/Rehabilitation Plans
The overall objective of suppression and Repair Plans is to mitigate or eliminate environmental resource impacts caused by fire suppression actions and restore the area to as natural an appearance as possible.
Before taking any action, discussion is needed with the appropriate personnel (SME’s and those with decision making authority such as IC’s and Line Officers)
Suppression repair work is to be completed before the fire is declared out. Activities and use of WFSU that extend after control of the fire must be approved in advance as outlined by Agency Policies.
Resource Advisor (READ) Information
The work of a Resource Advisor starts before the fire. On a home unit, the resource advisor may participate in pre-fire planning to ensure fire management plans consider wilderness character and regulations. Wilderness READs can prepare for a fire assignment by learning the roles and tasks to ensure success.
- Example Wilderness Fire Management Guidelines
- Step by Step Wilderness READ Prep and Tasks
- Wilderness Fire Guidebook and Roles
- Wilderness Fire Management Planning Checklist
The majority of materials posted are intended for Wilderness Resource Advisors to use when they are on a fire incident within wilderness. The exception is the PowerPoint on Wilderness BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response), which provides context on transitioning from active fire suppression into a suppression repair plan and BAER activities.
- Wilderness BAER PowerPoint
- Wilderness Fire Guidelines
- Wilderness MIST 1
- Wilderness MIST 2
- Wilderness Motorized Equipment Use Tracking Sheet
Resource Advisor (READ) reports can be used as living documents for briefing incoming READS to an incident. They can also be final documents produced at the end of a fire to summarize the Resource advisors’ actions and recommendations as a summary guide for the home unit after management of the fire is given back to the unit.
Typically, these reports will cover a detailed incident summary, significant impacts and events, lessons learned, fire progression data, suppression and repair recommendations, and other considerations and recommendations.
Documenting Prohibited Uses
The Wilderness Act identifies Prohibited Uses in Section 4(c). For Wilderness fires prohibited uses, such as chainsaw use, dozer operations, and helicopters, are common occurrences to protect public and firefighter safety and can be authorized. Documentation of these authorized prohibited uses is critical for reporting and monitoring of Wilderness Character. Agencies, regions and units may have different formats for upward reporting. The READ may assist the agency administrator in preparing documentation, checklists and filing correspondence.
The materials posted here are intended for use in Wilderness Fire Resource Advisor Training sessions sponsored by the federal land management agencies. The materials provided should be updated as necessary before use. Some modification of the presentations or addition of relevant examples to suit local conditions may also be necessary and is encouraged. Note also that much of the material is not wilderness specific, but addresses the general resource advisor position.
These training materials were produced by the staff at the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center and by subject matter experts such as Fire Resource Advisors and wilderness and fire managers from the four federal wilderness management agencies. The Wilderness Fire Resource Advisor Training is based on materials contained in the NWCG publication: Resource Advisor's Guide for Wildland Fire.
Interagency READ Cohort
The READ Cohort is a community of people interested in all aspects of Resource Advising on wildland fire and all-hazard incidents. It is grassroots, informal, unofficial, ongoing, nationwide, interagency, and interactive. It is open to anyone interested in “Resource Advising” in the broadest sense. It helps members anticipate impacts of wildland fire or natural disasters suppression or management actions on natural, cultural, social, and Wilderness resources with a focus on how to minimize adverse impacts, rehabilitate, and restore resources when impacted. This includes, but is not limited to: READ, REAF, Lead READ, ARCH, THSP, and other agency-specific positions.
The READ Cohort provides opportunities for learning, information exchange, and networking by:
- Hosting monthly virtual topic meetings (Every 3rd Wednesday of the month, 08:30-09:30 pacific time, via TEAMS)
- Maintaining a READ resource library online using Google Drive
- Maintaining an online list of Cohort members
- Maintaining an online list of active incident requests for READs, REAFs, and ARCHs, which supplements the official IROC resource ordering system.
Anyone interested is welcome to join the READ Cohort email list or update their individual information at any time.
- Linn Gassaway
- Heritage & Tribal Pgm Mgr, Lassen NF.
- Melyssa Navis
- Tribal Relations Splist, Humboldt-Toiyabe NF.
- Margaret Hangan
- Heritage & Tribal Relations Pgm Mgr, Kaibab NF.
- Marisa Anderson
- Ecologist, USFS Intermountain Region (R4)
- Lynn Robinson
- Acting Cultural Resources Pgm Mgr, Joshua Tree NP.
- Tom Demeo
- Ecologist, USFS Pacific Northwest Region (R6)
- Pete Irvine
- Wilderness & Trails Pgm Mgr, USFS Retired (AD).
Agendas and Curriculums
Handouts and Activities
Resources and References
- National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)
- National Interagency Fire Center Website
- National Geographic Area Coordinating Center
- Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center - Searchable for wilderness specific information
- Glossary of Wildland Fire Terminology
- Wildland Fire Decision Support System - WFDSS
- An Aide for Completing a National Wildland Fire Situation Analysis
- Agency Administrator's Guide to Wildland Fire Decision Making (USFS, R3)
- Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management
- A History of Wilderness Fire Management in the Northern Rockies (2021)
- "Individual and Organizational Influences to the Use of Fire and Fuels," paper by Vita Wright, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research (2008)
- Wilderness Fire in a Changing World, Carol Miller (2006)
Searching for Research on Wildland Fire and Wilderness
- Leopold Institute Wilderness Fire Research Program
- FS Rocky Mountain Research Station; Wilderness Fire
- Northern Rockies Fire Science Network Wilderness Fire Workshop (2016)
- Northern Rockies Fire Science Network; Wilderness Fire
- FS Treesearch; Wilderness Fire
- Prescribed Fire in Wilderness, by Laurie Yung (2008)
- Wildland Fire Use: Incentives and Disincentives, by Robert W. Mutch (2020)
- The Benefits of Hard Decisions: Applying Lessons from Wilderness Fire (2020)-Video
- Evolution of Wilderness Fire in the Northern Rockies: From Fire Control to Fire Management (2021)- Video
- Dixie Fire, Lassen Volcanic National Park Wilderness (2021) - Video