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Burned Area Emergency Response, BAER

BAER Home | Background | Wildland Fire Leadership Council


While many wildfires cause minimal damage to the land and pose few threats to the land or people downstream, some fires cause damage that requires special efforts to prevent problems afterwards. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; water runoff may increase and cause flooding; sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs putting endangered species and community water supplies at risk.

After a fire the first priority is emergency stabilization in order to prevent further damage to life, property or natural resources. The stabilization work begins before the fire is out and may continue for up to a year. The longer-term rehabilitation effort to repair damage caused by the fire begins after the fire is out and continues for several years. Rehabilitation focuses on the lands unlikely to recover naturally from wildland fire damage.

The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program is designed to address these emergency situations through its key goals of protecting life, property, and critical natural and cultural resources.
The objective of the BAER program is to determine the need for and to prescribe and implement emergency treatments on Federal Lands to minimize threats to life or property resulting from the effects of a fire or to stabilize and prevent unacceptable degradation to natural and cultural resources.

BAER teams are staffed by specially trained professionals: hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, biologists, vegetation specialists, archeologists, and others who rapidly evaluate the burned area and prescribe emergency stabilization treatments. A BAER assessment usually begins before the wildfire has been fully contained.

In most cases, only a portion of the burned area is actually treated. Severely burned areas, very steep slopes, places where water runoff will be excessive, fragile slopes above homes, businesses, municipal water supplies, and other valuable facilities are focus areas. The treatments must be installed as soon as possible, generally before the next damaging storm. Time is critical if treatments are to be effective.

There are a variety of emergency stabilization techniques that the BAER team might recommend. Reseeding of ground cover with quick-growing or native species, mulching with straw or chipped wood, construction of straw, rock or log dams in small tributaries, and placement of logs to catch sediment on hill slopes are the primary stabilization techniques used. The team also assesses the need to modify road and trail drainage mechanisms by installing debris traps, modifying or removing culverts to allow drainage to flow freely, adding additional drainage dips and constructing emergency spillways to keep roads and bridges from washing out during floods.

BAER Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation

What BAER may do: What rehabilitation may do:
Install water or erosion control devices
Plant for erosion control or stability reasons. Replant commercial forests or grass for forage.
Install erosion control measures at critical cultural sites. Excavate and interpret cultural sites.
Install temporary barriers to protect treated or recovering areas. Replace burned pasture fences.
Install warning signs. Install interpretive signs.
Replace minor safety related facilities. Replace burned buildings, bridges, corrals, etc.
Install appropriate-sized drainage features on roads, trails. Repair roads damaged by floods after fire.
Remove critical safety hazards.
Prevent permanent loss of T&E habitat. Replace burned wildlife habitat.
Monitor BAER treatments. Monitor fire effects.
Plant grass to prevent spread of noxious weeds. Treat pre-existing noxious weed infestations.

Special Emergency Wildfire Suppression funds are authorized for BAER activities and the amount of these expenses varies with the severity of the fire season. Some years see little BAER activity while others are extremely busy. On average, BAER expenses have been about 5% of the cost of fire suppression.

BAER assessment plans and implementation are often a cooperative effort between federal agencies (Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Geological Survey), and state, tribal and local forestry and emergency management departments. They are closely coordinated with private landowners.

How Can You Be Involved or Learn More?

Gain awareness of the BAER program and how the process works. Find out who manages BAER activities at your local Forest Service or other federal or state land management office. Contact your local federal or state land management agency, or call the Fire Information Desk during a wildfire to learn who is leading efforts in your area.

See if you can help install some treatments as a volunteer, or help monitor the success of these treatments and maintain them in following years. Past BAER treatment projects have involved school and scout groups and community organizations. Much labor is often needed within a short period of time to install much-needed erosion-control measures. Monitoring the regrowth of vegetation through photographs makes a good long-term school science project.

Thank you for your interest in the Burned Area Emergency Response program.

Disclaimers | Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) | Privacy Notice

Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air & Rare Plants (WFW)
Washington, D.C. Office
Author: Shelly Witt, National Continuing Education Coordinator, WFW staff
Phone: 435-881-4203
Expires: none

Photo Credits

USDA Forest Service
P.O. Box 96090
Washington, D.C. 20090-6090
(202) 205-8333