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U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Burned Area Emergency Response - BAER

BAER Home | Wildland Fire Leadership Council

Background

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 also 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 on Forest Service lands. 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 roads, trails, campgrounds, 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 are some common hillslope 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.


Differences between BAER Emergency Stabilization and Long Term Rehabilitation

What BAER may do: What rehabilitation may do:
Install water or erosion control devices Repair gullies formed by post-fire floods.
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 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 less than 5% of the cost of fire suppression. There is no special funding for Forest Service long-term rehabilitation. Those needs become part of the overall work that is done using regular agency appropriations.

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.

Post-fire emergency response is a shared responsibility. Land management agencies such as the Forest Service, only have legal authority and funding to plan for and do work on areas of their responsibility. There are other Federal, State and local agencies that also have emergency response authorities and responsibilities. For instance, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manages the Emergency Watershed Protection program for flood prevention on private and tribal land. The National Weather Service has responsibility for flood warning. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) manages the flood insurance program and has other assistance authorities when the area is a Presidential-declared emergency. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) does debris flow modeling. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) have some emergency authorities for structures. And State, County and other local agencies, including highway/road departments and flood control authorities may be able to provide other assistance.

How Can You Be Involved or Learn More?

Gain awareness of the BAER and long-term rehabilitation programs and how the process works. Find out who manages post-fire response activities at your local Forest Service or other federal or state land management office.

See if you can help install some post-fire treatments as a volunteer or help monitor the success of these treatments and maintain them in following years. Past fire rehabilitation treatment projects have involved school and scout groups and community organizations. 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.