Forest Service: Continued Work Needed to Address Persistent Management Challenges Page: 4 of 15
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Strategies Are Still
Needed to Ensure
Effective Use of
In our 2009 testimony, we reported that the Forest Service, working with
the Department of the Interior, had taken steps to help manage perhaps
the agency's most daunting challenge-protecting lives, private property,
and federal resources from the threat of wildland fire-but that it
continued to lack key strategies needed to use its wildland fire funds
effectively. Over the past decade, our nation's wildland fire problem has
worsened dramatically. Since 2000, wildland fires burned more than
double the acres annually, on average, than during the 1990s, and the
Forest Service's wildland fire-related appropriations have also grown
substantially, averaging approximately $2.3 billion over the past 5 years,
up from about $722 million in fiscal year 1999. As we have previously
reported, a number of factors have contributed to worsening fire seasons
and increased firefighting expenditures, including an accumulation of
flammable vegetation due to past land management practices; drought and
other stresses, in part related to climate change; and increased human
development in or near wildlands. The Forest Service shares federal
responsibility for wildland fire management with four Interior agencies-
the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and
Wildlife Service, and National Park Service.
In our 2009 testimony we noted four primary areas we believed the Forest
Service, in conjunction with Interior, needed to address to better respond
to the nation's wildland fire problems. The agencies have taken steps to
improve these areas, but work remains to be done in each.3 As a result, we
continue to believe that these areas remain major management challenges
for the Forest Service:
Developing a cohesive strategy that identifies options and associated
funding to reduce potentially hazardous vegetation and address
wildland fire problems. In a series of reports dating to 1999, we have
recommended that the Forest Service and Interior agencies develop a
cohesive wildland fire strategy identifying potential long-term options for
reducing fuels and responding to fires, as well as the funding requirements
associated with the various options. By laying out various potential
approaches, their estimated costs, and the accompanying trade-offs, we
3GAO has issued dozens of reports and recommended more than 50 actions the Forest
Service and Interior agencies could take to improve wildland fire management. For more
information on the agencies' efforts over the previous decade to improve their management
of wildland fire, see GAO, Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken
Important Steps Forward, but Additional, Strategic Action Is Needed to Capitalize on
Those Steps, GAO-09-877 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2009).
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Forest Service: Continued Work Needed to Address Persistent Management Challenges, text, March 10, 2011; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc291208/m1/4/: accessed February 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.