Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Scientists and experts at the U.S. Geological Survey now have access to historic natural resource investments through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law with approval of $7 million for science support of wildland fire management. 

This project brings USGS scientists together with experts from across the Interior Department, including from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, Office of Wildland Fire, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to improve how the Department defines the risks associated with wildfire to lands and waters it administers and how the Department measure the reduction of those risks as a result of its investments. Through a collaborative approach, the Interior Department will study aspects of wildfire and post-fire risk that have not yet been addressed. 

“Climate change, drought, and the spread of invasive species are causing rapid ecosystem changes that must be accounted for in wildfire modeling to ensure our mitigation and response efforts are effective,” said Jeff Rupert, Director of Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire. “As the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission laid out in its report to Congress last year, we must do more to unite disparate research efforts and data-driven decision-making. This project is one example of how the Interior Department is acting on those recommendations.”

This scientific project will be conducted through four tasks: 

  • Synthesizing and translating wildland fire science to support National Environmental Policy Act implementation. 
  • Developing a Department of the Interior risk assessment and mapping framework suitable for applications at multiple scales across bureaus and agencies.
  • Advancing the National Treatment Effectiveness Assessment Strategy to include a better understanding of fire risk and new technological tools. 
  • Post-fire mapping and monitoring.

“Everyone has a different concept of fire risk, and everyone identifies different values that can be affected by wildfire,” said Paul Steblein, USGS Wildland Fire Science coordinator, who noted the difference between fire damage through remote areas of the West versus densely populated eastern regions. 

As researchers plan the scope of their work, a major piece of their efforts will address direct and indirect impacts and benefits in fire risk models which outlines more than just the effects on recovery for humans and community infrastructure, according to Steblein. The scientific findings will allow land managers to prepare for long- and short-term ecological changes to plant communities, wildlife habitat and watersheds.

“Fire changes the physical, chemical and biological features and soils of a landscape, which then can result in changes to water flow and quality and how we recover other valuable resources,” Steblein said. “When we incorporate those factors into a model, we give land managers in those environments options for mitigation and recovery even before a fire begins.” 

Changing climates also factor into the need for updated models. Extreme droughts and, inversely, extreme rainfall are changing landscapes and what scientists understand about wildfires. 

“Fire-adapted invasive plant species, insects and disease outbreaks further complicate the dynamic and create more unknown conditions for the future,” said Steblein. “When we update our data, what we’re really doing is understanding how to improve the resilience of our lands, and we become better able to predict effects of changing weather patterns.” 

This scientific project will be no small undertaking, Steblein said, which is why the collaboration between Interior bureaus will be crucial to its success as regional maps are improved.  

“We’re going to be relying heavily on our partner bureaus throughout this project so we can figure out what data exists and how we can improve our decision making. We must take advantage of their knowledge and codify it into tools that can be used by everyone,” he said. 

“Ultimately, the goal of this effort is not to eliminate wildfires, but to manage for the right kind of wildfire,” Steblein said. 

According to fire scientists, fire acts as ecosystem drivers that cycle nutrients and improve habitats for many species, such as Ponderosa Pines, which rely on heat from fires to open cones and release seed. 

Prescribed wildland fire was an important practice for Indigenous cultures, which long used fire to rejuvenate landscapes across the continent. However, more than a century of wildfire suppression has left regions with an overabundance of “fuels” that amplify fire’s behavior and effects. 

“Once we evaluate and improve our models, we’ll be in a better position to utilize prescribed fires, control invasive weeds, and utilize other treatments to reduce the damaging effects of fire, which is a benefit to all of us,” Steblein said. 

Officials from USGS expect implementation of the project to take place over the next several years. The final products will include a publicly available, interactive, web-based viewer, data sets, and a story map.

Get Our News

These items are in the RSS feed format (Really Simple Syndication) based on categories such as topics, locations, and more. You can install and RSS reader browser extension, software, or use a third-party service to receive immediate news updates depending on the feed that you have added. If you click the feed links below, they may look strange because they are simply XML code. An RSS reader can easily read this code and push out a notification to you when something new is posted to our site.