Our Commitment

On National Wildlife Refuge System lands, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service strives to restore fire to refuge landscapes while protecting lives, property, and other values. The Service has used fire as a management tool since the 1930s to restore land health and reduce risks of catastrophic fire. This balanced approach to fire management benefits both people and wildlife. For additional information, please visit the national Fire Management page (linked below).

Smoke from a prescribed fire enters the sky.
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.

A History of Fire in the United States

Burning Naturally

The forest of the Inland Northwest evolved with regular and recurring natural fires. Many of the trees and other plants that occur here have developed adaptations that allow them not only to survive fire but thrive with fire. Fires regenerate and enhance many of these plant species and play an important role in forest community dynamics. Lightning-caused fires shaped the make-up and structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

Learn more about structure
of western forests for thousands of years prior to the twentieth century. Generally, trees were fewer in number, larger in size, and had a healthy mix of ages. With approximately 15-35 trees to the acre (TTA), the forest floor had a greater amount of grasses and forbs. According to core samples of larger trees, scientists determined that fire was on the land every 3 to 12 years. Native Americans also used fire to fireproof land and property, manage crops and herd animals while hunting. These repeated fires kept forests thinned out of small trees and woody debris, which in turn made fires less intense than those commonly seen today. 

Wildfire Suppression

The United States began suppressing fires in earnest in the early 1900s. With the exclusion of most natural fire, flammable vegetation and woody debris accumulated throughout the forests, compromising forest health. Forests became overcrowded, natural fuels increased, and shade tolerant species extended their range creating potentially dangerous conditions that made forests more susceptible to insects, disease, and wildfire. These overstocked forests lead to larger, hotter, and more extreme fires. The lack of fire has also had an adverse affect on native fire-dependent vegetation. At Turnbull NWR, for example, aspen has declined by 65% compared to historic records.  

Fire as a Tool

Wildlife biologists began using fire in the southeastern United States to mimic the conditions that wildfires produced, creating suitable habitat for bobwhite quail. These early burns set the stage for today's prescribed fire program using fire to improve habitat, restore the ecosystem to healthy state, and reduce the risk of dangerous wildfires.

Saving Property, Lives, and Land

Fire Dependent Species

Most Refuge System Lands managed by the Service in the northwest evolved with fire and require fire for their ecological health. More than 50% of Refuge lands in the United States (including more than 90% of Refuge lands in Alaska) are fire-adapted ecosystems, where healthy wildlife habitat depends on periodic fire. Without the unique ecological benefits of fire, lands are more susceptible to fuel buildup and invasive weeds degrading wildlife habitat. Studies have shown that post-fire, certain grasses and forbs have a higher crude protein and fat content for the following 1-3 years. For example, burning Ceanothus, a woody, fire-dependent shrub, may destroy the above-ground portion of the plant. However, it grows back quickly, is more palatable and nutritious, and if conditions are suitable, may stimulate additional growth. This enhanced growth favors deer, elk, and other species that savor these native food sources. 

More importantly, fires reduce competition between trees by opening the land up. This allows trees more access to water, sunlight, and soil nutrients. Reduced competition makes trees less susceptible to insect and disease infestation.

Less Devastating Wildfires or Managing Risk

Wildfire can be hazardous. The potential for loss of life and property due to wildfire is reduced when habitats are managed using mechanical fuel removal coupled with prescribed fire. 

Tragically, firefighters die suppressing wildfires every year. While there is risk associated with prescribed fire use and deaths have occurred, the hazards are reduced because burning conditions are less severe than those typical of a wildfire. Burn units are prepared in advance by reducing excess fuels through pre-commercial and commercial thinning, falling hazard trees, constructing fuel breaks and containment lines, having accessible water sources and identifying escape routes, and having safety zones in place prior to ignition. The burn will not be started unless all prescriptive conditions are met on the scheduled burn day.

Pay Now or Pay Later

Fighting wildfires can be expensive. In one day hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent fighting a large wildfire that may burn for weeks or months and be extremely destructive to homes, lives, and property. In contrast, one day of prescribed fire can treat hundreds of acres and reduce the possibility of catastrophic wildfires. Prescribed fire one of the most cost-effective methods to manage fuels and wildlife habitat and reduce the cost of wildfires. 

Refuges of the Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Forest Management Through Prescribed Fire

Prior to burning on a wildlife refuge, a fire management plan must be completed. This plan describes in detail how prescribed and wild fires will be managed. A burn plan is also necessary for each burn unit. The burn plan documents the specific needs of the site to be burned and specifies the requirements for prescription. If the site is not within prescription on the day of the burn, the burn will not be carried out at that time. Factors like temperature and humidity directly affect fuel moistures and are monitored closely to ensure that if the burn is initiated, it will be beneficial to the environment and meet the burn objectives.

Prescribed fire is only applied when specific set of conditions are met. These conditions include weather factors such as winds and relative humidity, fuel moisture levels, smoke dispersal conditions, and available personnel and equipment. Burn units must be properly prepared and adequate backup resources available assist with a burn in case prescriptive conditions change.

Smoke Management

Where there is fire, there is smoke. Every prescribed fire has a plan for smoke management. The Service complies with the Clean Air Act and submits requests for approval through State air quality specialists. These specialists evaluate the size and type of proposed burn, along with upcoming weather conditions and air quality to determine if the proposed burn can be approved. 

Even after State approval, we continue to evaluate weather conditions on-site and take appropriate actions if conditions are not satisfactory. 

Dense smoke can actually benefit forest health. Studies have shown that forest canopies exposed to just 15 minutes of wildfire smoke can reduce fungus spores and other pathogens by 45%.

Managing Refuge Forests

Forest management actions include mechanical treatments such as commercial logging, precommercial thinning, piling, and prescribed fire including slash pile and broadcast burning.

On forested units, mechanical treatments often precede prescribed fire to pre-condition the forest for fire re-introduction and ensure safe and effective use of prescribed fire. Prescribed fire is often used to clean up excess slash after a timber sale. 

Slash piles include small diameter trees that have been thinned by hand, or portions of larger trees that have been machine piled.

Following these treatments, the land can be maintained cost-effectively with regular use of prescribed fire. Managed forests are more open and the remaining trees have room to grow with less competition for resources. Native wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs return to the forest floor. Wildlife is found foraging for food, sometimes just hours after a prescribed burn prescribed burn
A prescribed burn is the controlled use of fire to restore wildlife habitat, reduce wildfire risk, or achieve other habitat management goals. We have been using prescribed burn techniques to improve species habitat since the 1930s.

Learn more about prescribed burn

While forest burning dominates on this refuge Complex, grassland and wetland habitats are periodically burned to enhance and maintain these valuable wildlife habitats.

Our Staff

Protect Your Property

Managing vegetation around your home can save it from destructive wildfires. This checklist identifies steps you can take to protect your property:

  • Space trees and brush at least 10 feet apart
  • Limb trees at least 4 feet above ground
  • Remove burnable vegetation at least 30 feet from your home and structures
  • Clear branches at least 10 feet from your roof
  • Keep your lawn and plants healthy and green
  • Choose appropriate plants for your home landscaping based on water needs and availability
  • Remove dead branches, leaves, and needles from your roof and yard
  • Prune trees regularly
  • Store firewood at least 30 feet away from buildings

External Links

For additional information, please visit:

Wildlife Ready Neighbors

Firewise USA

Fire Adapted Washington

Life with Fire Podcast

Good Fire Podcast

National Wildlife Coordinating Group (NWGC) Glossary of Wildland Fire

Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires

Protecting the Public

Prior to spring and fall prescribed burning, Refuge neighbors, visitors, and community members are informed by letter, press release, posted signs, or telephone calls of proposed burning plans. Notices include maps and other information about the burns. The Service wants neighbors and visitors to be aware of prescribed fire activities. 

If you have any questions regarding the Refuge burning program or want to be added to our contact lists, please call Refuge Headquarters at (509)-235-4723 or reach out directly to Refuge Manager Cassie Roeder.

Career Info

Working in fire for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is unlike any other wildland fire position you’ve ever had. Among all the Department of the Interior agencies, we are the only agency whose mission focuses solely on the conservation, protection, and enhancement of fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitat. To adequately protect wildlife species and their habitat, we strategically apply prescribed fire across a variety of landscapes which rely on periodic fire for ecological balance. Of all the prescribed fire acres applied across the country, our fire program applies 50% of them (when combining all the Department of the Interior agency acres). When fire season hits, our fire personnel support suppression efforts across the country, traveling to areas many people never get to see.

Firefighters at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia/Florida prepare to cut down hazard trees in a recent prescribed burn prescribed burn
A prescribed burn is the controlled use of fire to restore wildlife habitat, reduce wildfire risk, or achieve other habitat management goals. We have been using prescribed burn techniques to improve species habitat since the 1930s.

Learn more about prescribed burn

As a smaller wildland fire agency, we have the ability to create an inclusive, welcoming fire family that is perfect for those looking to start their fire careers, spend their entire career, or simply find a place where they belong. We can’t wait to work alongside you soon!

For more information about recruitment and our fire program, please see our recruitment rack card (PDF) or Keeping Fire on Our Side (PDF) brochure

Taking care of our own

  • Competitive pay and opportunity for full federal benefits
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness eligibility
  • Retirement eligible after 20 years of service


  • No experience necessary for entry level positions
  • Candidates must be U.S. citizens or nationals
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Must be 18-37 years old at the time of hire—exceptions may apply

Applying for a Fire Job on USAJobs

Applying for a fire job can sometimes be confusing and cumbersome. Luckily, The National Interagency Fire Center has created these helpful video clips to assist with the application process.

Introduction to USAJobs

How to Navigate USAJobs

How to Create a USAJobs Account and Login

How to Build a Government Resume for USAJobs

How to Apply and Upload Documents on USAJobs

How to Personalize and Save a USAJobs search

Navigating Federal Benefits and Human Resources

Helpful Links

NIFC Careers

Department of the Interior Careers

Fire in the News

A cameraman follows a firefighter who is walking toward small flames and a smoky forested landscape. The firefighter has a hose slung over his shoulder and is dragging the rest on the ground.
Concern over recruitment and retention grows every year, especially in the wildland firefighting profession. Several factors contribute to the complexity of attracting and keeping personnel: demanding nature of the work, high risk and stress levels, burnout and mental health concerns, and...

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