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Wildland Fire Use

Wildland Fire Use

In some cases, when outlined in a fire management plan and where communities are not at risk, allowing natural fires to burn (wildland fire use) may be the most appropriate management response. In rugged, steep, or highly inaccessible terrain where people are not threatened, wildland fire use can help avoid putting firefighters at unreasonable risk.

Wildland fire use (WFU) is the management of naturally ignited wildland fires (those started by lightning or lava) to accomplish specific resource objectives within a pre-defined area. Objectives can include maintenance of healthy forests, rangelands, and wetlands, and support of ecosystem diversity. Monitoring is a high priority in WFU to ensure the fire stays within boundaries and meets objectives.

Wildland fire use is often a long-duration event which can last weeks or months and may involve temporary inconveniences regarding smoke, travel, and potential closure of public use areas. For this reason, WFU occurs primarily in remote and undeveloped areas, such as wilderness areas on national wildlife refuges in Alaska and other states. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expanding wildland fire use on its lands to gain resource benefits that can only be achieved with fire.

Trees torch within wilderness at Tetlin NWR in Alaska. Wildland fire use in wilderness and other remote areas is often the most appropriate management response.

Trees torch within wilderness at Tetlin NWR in Alaska. Wildland fire use in wilderness and other remote areas is often the most appropriate management response.

Current FWS Wildland Fire Use Plans

Name of Unit
State
Region
Number of Burnable Acres
WFU Plan
San Andres NWR
NM
2
57,215
Yes
Seney NWR
MI
3
88,639
Yes
Browns Park NWR
CO
6
13,276
Yes
Kenai NWR
AK
7
1,352,000
Yes
Tetlin NWR
AK
7
645,000
Yes
Yukon Flats NWR
AK
7
8,757,000
Yes
Okefenokee NWR
GA
4
394,785
Yes
Arctic NWR
AK
7
14,624,000
Pending
Innoko NWR
AK
7
3,438,000
Pending
Kanuti NWR
AK
7
1,381,000
Pending
Koyukuk NWR
AK
7
1,381,000
Pending
Nowitna NWR
AK
7
6,450,000
Pending
Selawik NWR
AK
7
2,100,000
Pending

History of WIldland Fire Use

Wildland fire use is a relatively new wildland fire management action. It was originally termed as prescribed natural fire and initiated by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1968. Prescribed natural fire grew slowly in the Park Service and in the U.S. Forest Service during the 1970s and 1980s. The 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy renamed prescribed natural fire to wildland fire use and documented the need to increase these types of actions in response to wildfire. Since 1995, wildland fire use has increased dramatically.

During the 1970s, for example, there were prescribed natural fire programs in California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Florida. By 2001, wildland fire use had expanded to include those states, plus Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alaska, and Georgia.

See NWCG Glosssary of Wildland Fire Terminology

Last Updated: 08/04/2009