Crews hose down buildings near Old Faithful as a wildfire approaches. The 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park highlighted the need for increased planning and management of wildfires across the country. (Jeff Henry, National Park Service)
During the 1980s and 1990s a series of events highlighted the need for increased spending on wildland fire management. Along with a growing budget came demands for more consolidated oversight of wildland fire management programs across the Department of the Interior. These events are outlined below, along with how they lead to the creation of the Office of Wildland Fire.
Large wildfires in northern California and southwest Oregon in 1987, followed by the famous 1988 fires in and around Yellowstone National Park, prompted a series of budgetary and organizational changes intended to more effectively plan for and manage wildfires. A review of the Yellowstone fires pointed to a lack of adequate planning and funding as contributing factors to the difficulty in managing those wildfires.
In 1992 the Office of Management and Budget proposed a new $200 million Department-wide appropriation for wildland fire management to be held in a Bureau of Land Management account. The Office of Policy, Management and Budget developed a strategic plan for the use of the new funds and created a new “Interior Fire Coordinator” position in their office to manage the account. The Interior Fire Coordinator position was responsible for developing consistent wildland fire management policy, program and budget oversight across all of the Department of the Interior fire bureaus, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1994 the Interior Fire Coordinator position was moved from the Office of Policy, Management and Budget to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Managing Risk and Public Safety.
In 1995, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior published the first Federal Wildland Fire Policy. This document reaffirmed a commitment to firefighter and public safety, the protection of resources and property, the need to manage vegetation through prescribed fire and mechanical treatments (particularly in the wildland urban interface), and recognized the important role that wildland fire plays in resource management. This document has been the foundation for Federal wildland fire management policy ever since.
Several events during this time period caused agency officials to recognize an increasing need for accountability and consistency in wildland fire policy and practice across the bureaus:
Congress provided substantial new funding totaling $979 million in the Fiscal Year 2001 appropriation for wildland fire management across the Department of the Interior. These funds were included in the Bureau of Land Management budget for use across the Department. Along with this money came congressional direction for aggressive planning and action to reduce the risk of wildfire in the wildland urban interface, as well as demands for increased consistency, accountability, and stakeholder engagement in the implementation and management of the Department’s Wildland Fire Management Program.
To achieve these objectives the Secretary of the Interior created the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination in 2001 to ensure the “integration, coordination, and oversight of wildland fire policy across the Department.” Responsibility for the management of DOI’s wildland fire account was transferred from the Bureau of Land Management to the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination in 2008.
The overall direction for the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination was to:
In 2011, the National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Blueprint provided direction for the Office of Wildland Fire to work with partners at the U.S. Forest Service on the consolidation and development of new information technology that supports the wildland fire community.
In 2012, the title was shortened to the “Office of Wildland Fire.” The organizational structure and functions were described in the Departmental Manual under the Office of Policy, Management & Budget.
Today the Office of Wildland Fire employs a team of people to develop and execute budgets, coordinate workloads across the Department, establish wildland fire management policy, manage program oversight, and pursue technological innovation on behalf of a Wildland Fire Management Program that spans 536 million acres and over 4,500 full and part-time employees. Learn more about our office, the services we provide, and our current priorities.