The Burned Area Rehabilitation Program supports efforts to repair or improve burned landscapes unlikely to recover without human assistance.
Invasive plants can transform landscapes in ways that negatively affect local businesses, recreation, and wildlife. Replanting native species on burned landscapes, like this site from the 2017 Thomas Fire, gives them the advantage they need to recolonize an area. (Robyn Gerstenslager, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
$20.5 million: money spent by this program in Fiscal Year 2021
55: number of FTE* dedicated to the program in Fiscal Year 2021
883,000: acres treated in Fiscal Year 2021
728,000: acres treated for invasive species in Fiscal Year 2021
* FTE (full-time equivalent) is the annual number of "work years" produced by employees. A "work year" is roughly 2,080 hours. Reporting personnel in this way enables a common view of the workforce across government agencies.
Fire plays a natural and necessary role in many landscapes. Periodic low-intensity fires speed up the process of forest decomposition and deliver nutrients to the plants that remain. They build resilience to fires by clearing brush (a.k.a. ladder fuels) and creating a mosaic of burned, partially-burned, and unburned areas (which makes it less likely that future fires will torch an entire landscape). Some trees, like lodgepole pine, require the heat of flames to open up their cones and disperse new seeds.
Not all fires follow this paradigm, and not all landscapes react to fire in the same way. Sometimes wildfire burns so hot it incinerates everything over a large area, including the plant roots and other organic matter that stabilize the topsoil. This type of disturbance leaves an area vulnerable to erosion by floods or mudslides that can delay plant recovery for decades (or longer), reduce water quality in nearby streams, disrupt reservoirs and water treatment systems, and possibly damage homes located in the wildland urban interface. Invasive species pose another threat to destabilized areas if they gain a foothold, outcompete native plants, and transform a landscape in ways that affect local businesses, recreation, and wildlife.
In the first five years after a wildfire, our rehabilitation program works to prevent these problems and jump-start the landscape recovery process by:
This program also funds the repair or replacement of minor infrastructure damaged by a wildfire, such as small trail bridges, handrails, campgrounds, boat ramps, stock tanks, or informational kiosks.
The Department of the Interior establishes and implements monitoring protocols to assess the effectiveness of rehabilitation treatments, frequently in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, and other scientific institutions.