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Information iconA prescribed fire at Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. (Photo: Paul Hiebert/USFWS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages fire safely and cost-effectively to improve the condition of lands while reducing the risk of damaging wildfires to surrounding communities.

This balanced approach to fire management benefits people and wildlife. 

Eighty percent of Service lands, from marsh to forest to prairie, evolved with fire and depend on periodic fire to remain productive wildlife habitat. Fire is a vital conservation tool.


The Service’s fire management program has three main areas of focus: 

By the Numbers

 

Balcones_Canyonsland prescribed burn photo by Jeff Adams USFWS
A prescribed fire at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas improves habitat for monarch butterflies and other wildlife. (Photo: Jeff Adams/USFWS)
Fuels Management

By reducing burnable vegetation on national wildlife refuges, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire management professionals lower the risk and severity of wildfires and protect habitat for wildlife. To fire managers, burnable vegetation, such as grass, overgrown brush, trees or logging slash,  is known as fuel. The two primary methods of fuels reduction are prescribed fire and mechanical thinning — removing brush or creating fire breaks.

The Service concentrates most of its prescribed fires and brush removal in what’s called the wildland urban interface — community edges where developed property meets undeveloped wildland vegetation, such as forest and swamp. These places are particularly prone to wildfire.

Prescribed fire helps the Service protect sensitive species. At Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, for example, the Service has used prescribed fire to promote the growth of milkweed and nectar plants vital to monarch butterflies and other native pollinators.

Prescribed fire is also key to the health of the Southeast’s longleaf pine forests, crucial to the gopher tortoise, the red-cockaded woodpecker and other wildlife. Working with conservation partners, wildlife refuges including Carolina Sandhills in South Carolina, Piedmont in Georgia, and St. Marks in Florida use prescribed fire to improve longleaf habitat. Partly as a result, the red-cockaded woodpecker was proposed for downlisting in 2020 from endangered to threatened. 

At National Key Deer Refuge in Florida, the Service and cooperators use regular prescribed fires to preserve rare pine-rockland habitat that supports several threatened and endangered species, including Key deer.

 

firefighters at Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge phot by Joseph Whelan USFWS
Firefighters at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida monitor a prescribed fire. (Photo: Joseph Whelan/USFWS)

The priorities for the Service’s fuels management program are:

 

Swan Lake Fire in 2019 naer Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska photo by mike hill usfws
Firefighters contain the 2019 Swan Lake Fire at and near Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. (Photo: Mike Hill/USFWS)

Wildfire Management 

In many ecosystems, wildfire is a critical natural process. But unplanned wildfire has the potential to damage refuge habitats and infrastructure, and threaten communities.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cooperates with federal, state and local partners to suppress wildfires as soon as they start. This immediate response — known as initial attack — is critical to containing wildfires and ensuring public safety. Protecting human life is always the first objective. Protecting property and natural resources come next.  

Reducing catastrophic wildfire requires community trust, cooperation and interagency partnerships. Fire managers strengthen community relationships by working with local officials, taking part in community events and meetings, and educating interested groups and individuals.  

Service fire managers work closely with other fire agencies to keep communities, wildlife and ecosystems safe from the impacts of wildfire.

 

Prescribed fire at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Photo by Ed Christopher USFWS
A prescribed fire burns at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. (Photo: Ed Christopher/USFWS)

Wildfire Prevention

Methods used to prevent or lessen the intensity of wildfires on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands include cutting and removing excess vegetation as well as using herbicides to treat invasive vegetative species. Reducing excess vegetation protects communities as well as sensitive wildlife habitat. Data from a long-standing monitoring program help fire managers adapt project design and implementation to site-specific conditions.

Factors used to prioritize vegetative treatments include:

 

Whooping Cranes Post Burn at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge photo by jeff adams usfws
Whooping cranes feed at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas after a prescribed fire. (Photo: Jeff Adams/USFWS)

Post-Wildfire Recovery

Post-wildfire recovery consists of emergency stabilization and burned area rehabilitation. These methods prevent further resource damage, restore fire-scarred landscapes and promote long-term restoration and recovery. 

Burned Area Rehabilitation. Department of the Interior firefighting agencies have five years from a wildfire ignition to begin Burned Area Rehabilitation restoration actions. These authorize the repair or improvement of fire-damaged lands that are unlikely to recover on their own. BAR actions also repair or replace minor assets damaged by fire.

Suppression Activity Damage Repair is generally completed before wildfire containment, but may be completed during the post-wildfire recovery phase. Prescribed actions aim to repair damage caused by the fire suppression effort.

Additional post-wildfire restoration activities are the responsibility of individual national wildlife refuges.

 

Fire crew Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge photo by Jeff Adams USFWS
Firefighters at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas mark the successful completion of a prescribed fire. (Photo: Jeff Adams/USFWS)

Working for the Service Fire Program

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firefighters are highly trained and specialized. Fire crews combine expertise in fire planning and operations, fire ecology, fire science, smoke management, hydrology, wildlife and fisheries biology, forestry, range conservation, soil sciences and water resources, fuels management and emergency management. 

Entry-level firefighters receive training at Basic Fire School (Rookie School). Returning firefighters receive specialized training to advance their careers in wildland firefighting.

For those seeking work that is physically and mentally challenging, provides opportunities for travel, and serves a greater good, working for a wildland fire crew might be a good fit. Firefighters gain experience in prescribed burning, wildfire suppression and fire preparedness. The bulk of the work is from May through September.

Working for the Service fire program means being part of a diverse workforce that values differences in life experience, educational background and personal perspectives.

For more information, see our recruitment brochure (PDF) or consult the Interior Department’s Working in Wildland Fire website.

To receive Service career and internship announcements, sign up here.

Explore other job resources, including the Diversity Joint Venture for Conservation Careers and USAJobs.gov.

 

St Johns National Wildlife Refuge Photo by Jon Wallace USFWS
A prescribed fire at St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge in Florida reduces risk to communities along I-95. (Photo: Jon Wallace/USFWS)

News and Success Stories

Follow the National Interagency Fire Center’s social media pages on Facebook and Twitter.

For images of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire management and firefighters, please visit our Flickr page.

Read about wildland fire successes on the Office of Wildland Fire  wildland fire blog.

Resources

 

Information iconWest Mims Wildfire in 2017 at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. (Photo: Josh O'Connor/USFWS)