oversight

Wildland Fire Management: Additional Actions Required to Better Identify and Priorities Lands Needing Fuels Reduction

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-08-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

              United States General Accounting Office

GAO           Report to Congressional Requesters




August 2003
              WILDLAND FIRE
              MANAGEMENT
              Additional Actions
              Required to Better
              Identify and Prioritize
              Lands Needing Fuels
              Reduction




GAO-03-805
              a
                                                 August 2003


                                                 WILDLAND FIRE MANAGEMENT

                                                 Additional Actions Required to Better
Highlights of GAO-03-805, a report to            Identify and Prioritize Lands Needing
congressional requesters
                                                 Fuels Reduction



The density of the nation’s forests,             The Forest Service and Interior have identified three categories of land for
along with drought and other                     fuels reduction: (1) lands with excess fuels buildup, (2) lands in the
weather conditions, has fueled                   wildland-urban interface where federal lands surround or are adjacent to
wildland fires that have required                urban development and communities, and (3) lands where vegetation grows
billions of dollars to suppress and              rapidly and requires regular maintenance treatments to prevent excess fuels
has forced thousands of people to
evacuate their homes. The
                                                 buildup. However, the agencies have not yet reliably estimated the amount
Department of Agriculture’s                      or identified the location of these lands. Without identifying these lands
(USDA) Forest Service and the                    there is no baseline against which to assess progress under the fuels
Department of the Interior                       reduction program.
(Interior) are collaborating on a
long-term effort to reduce the risk              Local land management units prioritize lands for fuels reduction using a
these fires pose. GAO was asked,                 variety of methods, including professional judgment and ranking systems.
among other things, to (1) assess                Prioritization methods vary, in part, because the Forest Service and Interior
the agencies’ efforts to determine               have not issued specific national guidance on prioritization. Without specific
which federal lands require fuels                national guidance on prioritization, it is difficult for the Forest Service and
reduction treatments, (2)                        Interior to ensure that the highest priority fuels reduction projects
determine how lands are prioritized
for treatment, and (3) assess how
                                                 nationwide are being implemented.
progress is measured and reported.
                                                 A number of factors, including weather and diversion of resources to fire
                                                 suppression have hindered the Forest Service’s and Interior’s ability to
                                                 complete their annual fuels reduction workloads. While agency officials are
To enhance fuels reduction efforts,              addressing some of these factors, others, such as weather, are beyond
GAO recommends, among other                      human control. As a result, agency officials are uncertain whether increased
things, that the Forest Service and              funding would necessarily result in a proportional increase in acres treated.
Interior (1) collect detailed
nationwide data to identify and
prioritize which federal lands need              The Forest Service and Interior are developing results-oriented performance
fuels reduction and (2) report acres             measures to assess the effectiveness of treatments in reducing the risk of
treated to reduce wildfire risk,                 catastrophic wildfires. However, since the agencies have not identified the
acres requiring multiyear                        amount or location of lands with excess fuels buildup, there is currently no
treatments to reduce wildfire risk,              baseline from which to assess program performance. In addition, annual
and maintenance acres separately                 performance reports provide misleading information on the overall progress
in annual performance reports.                   being achieved under the fuels reduction program because the agencies are
                                                 reporting all acres treated annually without separately reporting on acres
Commenting on the draft report,                  that are treated to maintain a low level of wildfire risk and other acres that
Interior and USDA agreed that                    require several years of treatments to reduce risk.
prioritization is essential to
program effectiveness, but had
concerns about our                               Fuels Reduction on Forest Service and Interior Lands
recommendations on identifying
lands and reporting
accomplishments.


www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-805.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Barry T. Hill at
(202) 512-3841 or hillbt@gao.gov.
Contents



Letter                                                                                                    1
                             Results in Brief                                                             3
                             Background                                                                   6
                             Agencies Are Focusing Fuels Reduction on Lands in Three
                               Categories, but More Efforts Are Needed to Estimate the Amount
                               and Location of These Lands                                               11
                             Local Land Units Prioritize Projects Using a Variety of Methods
                               Because of a Lack of Specific National Guidance                           18
                             Fuels Reduction Efforts Hindered by a Number of Factors                     23
                             Agencies Recognize Need to Better Measure the Effect of Fuels
                               Reduction Treatments, but Annual Reporting Practices Need
                               Improvement                                                               29
                             Conclusions                                                                 32
                             Recommendations for Executive Action                                        33
                             Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                          33


Appendixes
              Appendix I:    Scope and Methodology                                                       36
             Appendix II:    Summary of Fuels Treatment Accomplishments for the
                             Forest Service and Interior, FY 2001-2003                                   39
             Appendix III:   Summary of Fuels Treatment Accomplishments in the
                             Southeast for the Forest Service and Interior, FY
                             2001-2003                                                                   45
             Appendix IV:    Summary of Information Related to the 17 Forest Service
                             and BLM Local Units Visited by GAO                                          48
              Appendix V:    Comments from the Departments of Agriculture and of the
                             Interior                                                                    56
             Appendix VI:    GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                      60
                             GAO Contacts                                                                60
                             Staff Acknowledgments                                                       60


Tables                       Table 1:   Local Land Units Visited by GAO                                  37
                             Table 2:   Summary of FY 2001 Goals and Accomplishments                     39
                             Table 3:   Summary of FY 2002 Goals and Accomplishments                     41
                             Table 4:   Summary of FY 2003 Planned Accomplishments                       43
                             Table 5:   Southeast Accomplishments for FY 2001                            45
                             Table 6:   Southeast Accomplishments for FY 2002                            46
                             Table 7:   Southeast Accomplishments Planned for FY 2003                    47



                             Page i                                 GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
          Contents




          Table 8: 2002 Fuels Reduction Acres and Costs for 17 Local Land
                    Units                                                             48
          Table 9: 2003 Planned Fuels Reduction Acres and Costs for 17
                    Local Land Units                                                  50
          Table 10: Cost and Accomplishments by Fuels Reduction Treatment
                    Methods Used by 17 Local Land Units, 2002                         51
          Table 11: Reasons Cited for Incomplete Fuels Reduction Work by 17
                    Local Land Units, 2002                                            52
          Table 12: Acres Treated in FY 2002 or Planned in FY 2003 That Were
                    Treated in the Previous Fiscal Year                               53


Figures   Figure 1: Movement of U.S. Population Toward the Interior West               7
          Figure 2: A Mechanical Thinning Project Being Used for Fuels
                     Reduction on a Western National Forest                           10
          Figure 3: Prescribed Fire Being Used for Fuels Reduction on a
                     Western National Forest                                          11
          Figure 4: Wildfire Risk Levels                                              13
          Figure 5: Various Types of Wildland-Urban Interface                         16
          Figure 6: Methods Used to Prioritize Projects at 17 Local Units             20
          Figure 7: Reasons Why Fuels Reduction Treatments Were Not
                     Implemented by 17 Local Units, FY 2002                           23
          Figure 8: Number of Acres Burned by Wildfires, 1993-2002                    25
          Figure 9: Percentage of Acres Treated or Planned for Treatment in
                     the Southeast by the Forest Service and Interior, FY
                     2001-2003                                                        31
          Figure 10: Fiscal Year 2001 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Acre
                     Distribution                                                     40
          Figure 11: Fiscal Year 2001 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Cost
                     Distribution                                                     40
          Figure 12: Fiscal Year 2002 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Acre
                     Distribution                                                     42
          Figure 13: Fiscal Year 2002 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Cost
                     Distribution                                                     42
          Figure 14: Fiscal Year 2003 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Acre
                     Distribution                                                     43
          Figure 15: Fiscal Year 2003 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Cost
                     Distribution                                                     44
          Figure 16: Elements of Local Land Units’ Project Prioritization
                     Methods                                                          54




          Page ii                                GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Contents




Abbreviations

BLM          Bureau of Land Management
USDA         U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Page iii                                        GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
A
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, D.C. 20548



                                    August 15, 2003                                                                  Leter




                                    The Honorable Charles Taylor
                                    Chairman
                                    The Honorable Norman Dicks
                                    Ranking Minority Member
                                    Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies
                                    Committee on Appropriations
                                    House of Representatives

                                    The Honorable Scott McInnis
                                    Chairman
                                    Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health
                                    Committee on Resources
                                    House of Representatives

                                    Nearly 100 years of fire suppression have left the nation’s forests dense
                                    with small, tightly spaced trees and thick brush. This density, along with
                                    weather conditions, such as wind, high temperatures and drought, has
                                    fueled wildland fires that in certain cases have spread rapidly and become
                                    catastrophic. These fires and the resulting damage not only compromise
                                    the forests’ ability to provide timber, outdoor recreation, clean water, and
                                    other resources, but also pose increasingly grave risks to health, safety, and
                                    property. Two of the more devastating fire seasons on record have
                                    occurred in the last 3 years. In 2000, wildland fires burned more than 8
                                    million acres; and in 2002, almost 7 million acres were burnedabout
                                    twice the 10-year annual average. These fires required billions of dollars to
                                    suppress and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

                                    In the aftermath of the wildland fires of 2000, the federal agencies
                                    responsible for wildland fire managementthe Forest Service in the U.S.
                                    Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs,
                                    Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service and National
                                    Park Service in the Department of the Interior (Interior)—developed the
                                    National Fire Plan, a long-term multibillion-dollar plan to address the
                                    nation’s risk of such fires. A major component of the plan is a hazardous
                                    fuels reduction program that requires the agencies to thin forests and
                                    rangelands, thereby reducing the risk of catastrophic fires caused by
                                    excessive buildup of vegetation. Local land management units, such as
                                    national forests and parks, are generally responsible for carrying out
                                    projects to reduce the buildup of vegetation that fuels catastrophic fires.
                                    Techniques used for managing vegetation generally include setting fires



                                    Page 1                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
under controlled conditions (prescribed burns) and mechanical thinning.
Another important component of the plan is for the agencies to establish
effective performance measures to assess the results of their fuels
reduction treatments. Beginning in fiscal year 2001, the agencies have
received approximately $400 million annually for fuels reduction under the
plan.

According to the Forest Service and Interior, about 650 million acres, or
over 85 percent of the approximately 750 million acres of federal land that
they manage, are susceptible to wildland fire. These susceptible lands,
according to a recent government estimate, include (1) millions of acres in
the dense forests of the West that have excess buildup of fuels and are at
risk of catastrophic fires, (2) millions of acres nationwide that either
surround or are adjacent to urban development and communities
(commonly referred to as the wildland-urban interface) that are at risk to
wildland fire, and (3) still other acres that need regular and frequent
treatments to prevent rapid fuels buildup. While fire plays a role in
maintaining the health of certain ecosystems, the overall growth of
vegetation in the nation’s forests and rangelands has created unnatural
hazardous fire conditions. Under the National Fire Plan, the Forest Service
and Interior are attempting to identify and prioritize the lands most in need
of fuels reduction while dealing with a number of challenges that hinder the
agencies’ implementation of fuels reduction efforts. The House of
Representatives has recently passed legislation intended to, among other
things, reduce the risk of damage to communities, municipal watersheds,
and certain federal lands from catastrophic wildfires. However, there is
controversy over whether conducting fuels reduction treatments outside
the wildland urban interface—as the House bill would authorize—is
appropriate, especially if the treatments involve clear cutting trees in
remote forest areas.

In this context, you asked us to (1) assess the Forest Service’s and Interior’s
efforts to determine which federal lands require fuels reduction treatments,
(2) determine how local land units within the Forest Service and Interior
prioritize land for fuels reduction treatments, (3) identify factors that have
hindered fuels reduction efforts, and (4) assess how the Forest Service and
Interior measure and report progress under the fuels reduction program.

In conducting our review, we met with Forest Service and Interior officials
in headquarters, and visited five states, where we met with officials in
selected regional and state offices, as well as 17 Forest Service and BLM
local land units, such as national forests and BLM field offices. While the



Page 2                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                   results of our visits cannot be projected nationwide, the visits represent a
                   mix of local fuels reduction efforts based on geographic diversity and level
                   of funding. (See app. I for details on the scope and methodology of our
                   review.)



Results in Brief   The Forest Service and Interior have identified three categories of federal
                   lands that require fuels reduction, but they have not yet reliably estimated
                   the amount and identified the location of these lands. Given the potentially
                   vast amounts of federal land at risk of catastrophic wildfire, the agencies
                   have stressed the importance of treating lands that have excess fuels
                   buildup and lands in the wildland-urban interface. In addition, the agencies
                   acknowledge a third categorylands that require regular maintenance to
                   prevent excess fuels buildup because vegetation grows rapidly—but they
                   have not decided whether these lands are as important to treat as are lands
                   in the first two categories. Government scientists have collected
                   nationwide data on lands with excess fuels buildup, but because the data
                   were not detailed, there was a large margin of error in the resulting
                   estimates. Recognizing the need for more accurate estimates, the agencies
                   are currently considering whether to fund a project to assess in more detail
                   the fuels buildup on federal land nationwide. If funded, they do not expect
                   to complete the effort until 2008 at the earliest. For the second
                   categorylands in the wildland-urban interfacethe agencies have not
                   specifically defined the wildland-urban interface so they have been unable
                   to collect data that are relevant nationwide. For example, the agencies have
                   not decided if it includes only land near residences and commercial
                   development or also land near public resources, such as power lines and
                   watersheds. Without a clear national definition, there is no basis for a
                   consistent determination about which lands are part of the wildland-urban
                   interface. Finally, for the third category—lands that require regular
                   maintenance treatments because the vegetation grows rapidly—the
                   agencies have not estimated the total amount and location of such lands,
                   although they have been reducing fuels on such lands in the Southeast for
                   decades. Without a nationwide estimate of the amount and location of land
                   in each category of land that is important to treat, it will be difficult for the
                   agencies to assess their progress in reducing the total amount of federal
                   land that requires fuels reduction.

                   Local land units prioritize lands within the three categories for fuels
                   reduction using a variety of methods including professional judgment and
                   ranking systems. For example, at one local unit an agency official uses his
                   professional judgment, local knowledge, and field observations of



                   Page 3                                     GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
vegetative conditions to prioritize projects. At another unit, officials collect
detailed data on factors such as vegetative condition, proximity to recent
fires, and proximity to communities; then they assign points to potential
fuels reduction projects, based on the factors, and rank the projects in
priority order. Still other units—particularly in the Southeast—select lands
for fuels reduction according to a recurring schedule. Moreover, even units
that use the same prioritization method may not emphasis the same criteria
in prioritization decisions. For example, among units that rely on
professional judgment, some place far greater weight on community
preferences than others. This variation in prioritization methods occurs, in
part, because the Forest Service and Interior have not issued specific
national guidance on how to prioritize projects; rather, they have issued
broad guidance allowing local units wide discretion. Without specific
guidance on how to prioritize locations for fuels reduction within the three
categories of federal land identified nationally, it is difficult for the Forest
Service and Interior to ensure that there is any consistent, systematic rigor
to how projects are being prioritized or that the highest priority fuels
reduction projects nationwide are being implemented.

Several factors including weather and diversion of resources to fire
suppression have hindered the Forest Service’s and Interior’s ability to
complete their annual fuels reduction workloads. Given these factors, in
2002, the Forest Service and Interior reduced fuels on 56 percent of the
approximately 4 million acres they could have treated. In discussions with
officials from 17 Forest Service and Interior local land units we visited,
they stated that the most prominent factor was the weather, which
accounted for 40 percent of all fuels reduction project delays at these units
in 2002. In some cases, land managers could not ignite prescribed burns
because weather conditions, such as wind, temperature, and drought, made
doing so unsafe; and they could not use mechanical thinning equipment
because of the risk that a spark would accidentally ignite a wildfire. For
example, at one local unit, over 34,000 acres, or 72 percent of the
approximately 47,000 acres planned for fuels reduction, were not treated
because of drought conditions. A related factor hindering agencies’
completion of fuels reduction projects in 2002 was the diversion of agency
resources from fuels reduction to fire suppression efforts during the severe
fire season. This factor accounted for about 30 percent of all project delays
at the local units we visited. For example, one national forest shifted about
22 percent of its approximately $570,000 fuels reduction budget to support
fire suppression efforts. Even in the Southeast, where the drought and the
fire season were less severe, nationwide policy restrictions prohibited local
units from implementing fuels reduction projects because the units’ staff



Page 4                                     GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
were required to be immediately available for suppression efforts
elsewhere. In addition, local land unit officials cited other factors, such as
administrative regulatory requirements and public resistance, that affected
fuels reduction projects. Although local land units are working to address
some of these factors, others, such as weather, are beyond human control.
Given these factors, some local officials were uncertain whether increased
funding would result in a proportional increase in acres treated under the
fuels reduction program.

To measure progress under the fuels reduction program, the Forest Service
and Interior are currently tracking and reporting the total number of acres
treated nationwide. This practice, however, measures only the number of
acres that receive fuels reduction treatmentsnot necessarily whether
progress is being made in reducing the overall risk of wildfire. Recognizing
this shortcoming, the Forest Service and Interior are currently developing
results-oriented performance measures that assess the effect of these
treatments in reducing the risk of wildfires. However, because the Forest
Service and Interior have not yet established baseline data by identifying
the acres that are at different levels of risk to wildfire, any assessment of
the change in wildfire risk level will be subjective, and it will be difficult to
determine the actual progress being made in reducing the risk of
catastrophic wildfire nationwide. In addition, the current method of
reporting annual performance is resulting in misleading information on
what is actually being accomplished with respect to reducing the total
amount of land at risk nationwide. Currently, the data give the indication
that all the acres treated are reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. This
is not the situation. In some cases, acres are being treated that will not
change the risk and in other cases multiple treatments need to be made
over several years to reduce the risk. Unless treatments in these cases are
reported separately in annual performance reports, it is, and likely will
continue to be, difficult to assess the progress being made under the fuels
reduction program in terms of reducing the overall risk of wildfires
nationwide.

In the context of vast, yet unknown acres of federal land at risk to wildfire
and major factors hindering fuels reduction on that land, mitigating the risk
of catastrophic wildfires through fuels reduction will require a sustained,
long-term effort. However, without a nationwide estimate of the amount
and location of lands that need fuels reduction, it will be difficult to ensure
that the highest priority fuels reduction projects nationwide are being
implemented and to assess progress in reducing fuels buildup in forests
and rangelands across the nation. Accordingly, we are recommending that



Page 5                                     GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
             the Forest Service and Interior identify which federal lands need fuels
             reduction so that detailed, comparable data can be collected on the amount
             and location of these lands, to facilitate prioritization decisions. In
             addition, we are recommending that in annual performance reports the
             Forest Service and Interior report acres treated that reduce the level of
             wildfire risk separately from other acres treated, to better reflect the long-
             term progress of the fuels reduction program. In commenting on a draft of
             this report, the Forest Service and Interior stated that the report aptly
             described the nature of the fuels problem on public lands in both its scope
             and severity. They agreed that prioritization is essential to program
             effectiveness, but they had some concerns about our recommendations
             related to identifying lands that need fuels reduction and reporting
             accomplishments in separate categories.



Background   Nearly all forests and grasslands in North America evolved with fire as a
             natural part of the ecosystem. Fire contributes to ecological health in
             forests and rangelands by maintaining plant species diversity, preventing
             the spread of invasive species, limiting the spread of insects and disease,
             and promoting new growth. Historically, fires occurred at a variety of
             frequencies ranging from 1- to 2-year cycles in some southeastern forests,
             to 200- to 500-year cycles in northwestern rain forests. These historical
             cycles changed in part because the federal government began a policy of
             suppressing all wildland fires as quickly as possible. Over the years, brush,
             small trees, and other vegetation accumulated that can fuel fires and cause
             them to spread more rapidly with catastrophic results. Weather phenomena
             have also contributed to dangerous fire conditions. The weather
             phenomenon known as La Niña, characterized by unusually cold Pacific
             Ocean temperatures, changed weather patterns when it formed in 1998. It
             caused severe, long-lasting drought across much of the country, drying out
             forests and rangelands.

             The Forest Service, BLM, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service,
             and Fish and Wildlife Service manage about 750 million acres of federal
             land across the United States. Most federal lands in the 48 contiguous
             states are located in 11 western states, which have seen a dramatic surge in
             population over the last 2 decades, complicating the management of
             wildland fires. As shown in figure 1, the population is moving toward the
             Interior West, contributing to new development in fire-prone areas, often
             adjacent to federal land, and creating a wildland-urban interface. This
             relatively new phenomenon means that more communities and structures




             Page 6                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
are at risk of wildland fire and of potential post-fire effects, including
increased erosion and flooding.



Figure 1: Movement of U.S. Population Toward the Interior West




a
The five fastest growing states through 1999 include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah.
b
People moving to the Interior West minus people leaving.


Following the 2000 fire season, which was one of the most challenging on
record, the Bush Administration asked USDA and Interior to recommend
how best to respond and how to reduce the impacts of such fires in the
future. Their report, called the National Fire Plan, recommended increased
funding for several key activities, such as suppressing wildland fires and
reducing the buildup of unwanted hazardous fuels. To fund the activities
recommended in the National Fire Plan, Congress appropriated $2.9 billion
to the Forest Service and the Interior agencies for their fiscal year 2001
wildland fire needsan increase of over $1 billion from the prior year



Page 7                                               GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
funding of $1.5 billion. Of the $2.9 billion, $400 million was for reducing
hazardous fuels. For fiscal year 2002 wildland fire needs, Congress
authorized $2.3 billion for the Forest Service and Interior agencies of which
$395 million was for reducing hazardous fuels. Of the agencies involved
with the fuels reduction program, the Forest Service and Interior’s BLM
spend the most money to reduce hazardous fuels.

A key component of the National Fire Plan is the development and
implementation of a cohesive strategy aimed at lowering the risks from
catastrophic wildfires by reducing the excess buildup of hazardous fuels in
the nation’s forests and rangelands.1 Since beginning implementation of the
National Fire Plan, the Forest Service and Interior have treated hazardous
fuels on about 4.4 million acres of federal land in 2001 and 2002. Most of the
treatments to date have been in the southeastern region of the United
States, where the vegetation in the forests tends to grow rapidly, causing
fuels to accumulate over a short period. (See app. II and III for detailed
information on program results for fiscal years 2001 and 2002, and planned
work for fiscal year 2003.)

Local land units within the Forest Service and Interior’s wildland fire
management agencies largely carry out fuels reduction treatments. The
Forest Service’s local land units consist of national forests and grasslands.
These local land units are overseen by the Forest Service’s regional offices.
Within Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ local land units consist of
agencies; BLM’s local land units consist of districts, field offices, or
resource areas; and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s and the National Park
Service’s local land units consist of facilities, refuges, or parks. BLM’s state
offices oversee its local land units, while the regional offices of the Bureau
of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service
oversee their local land units.

These agencies plan and implement fuels reduction projects that are
required to conform to agency specific land management statutes as well as
requirements under legislation such as the National Environmental Policy
Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air Act, and often involve
other federal and nonfederal regulatory agencies. In addition, as directed
by the community assistance goal of the National Fire Plan, the agencies
work with and grant funds to local communities for fuels reduction.


1
 At the time of our review, the Forest Service and Interior had not finalized the cohesive
strategy. As a result, local land units are continuing to operate under draft guidance.




Page 8                                            GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
At the national level, the Forest Service and Interior agencies are directed
to allocate fuels reduction funding to their regional or state offices that
have the greatest fire management workload, risk to communities, and
fuels buildup. However, because it has been difficult for the agencies to
allocate funding according to these criteria, in practice, funding allocations
are primarily influenced by historical workload and funding levels, and
proportional allocations tend to be similar from year to year. Consequently,
it is left to the local land units to identify the highest priority locations for
fuels reduction treatments.

To reduce hazardous fuels, agencies rely principally on mechanical or hand
thinning of trees and brush, prescribed burning, or a combination of the
two. Mechanical thinning includes the use of chainsaws, traditional timber
extraction machinery, and hydromowers and slashbusters—machines that
grind up small trees and shrubs into mulch—or other mechanized
equipment. Figure 2 depicts a mechanical thinning project. Prescribed
burns are fires set deliberately by land managers under weather, fuel, and
temperature conditions that enable the fire to be controlled at a relatively
low intensity level. Figure 3 depicts a prescribed burn project. In some
cases, it is necessary to mechanically thin an area before igniting a
prescribed fire, in order to achieve fuel conditions that prevent the fire
from burning so rapidly and intensely that it becomes uncontrollable.




Page 9                                     GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Figure 2: A Mechanical Thinning Project Being Used for Fuels Reduction on a
Western National Forest




Page 10                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                        Figure 3: Prescribed Fire Being Used for Fuels Reduction on a Western National
                        Forest




Agencies Are Focusing   The Forest Service and Interior have determined that three categories of
                        federal lands require fuels reduction treatment, but they have not yet
Fuels Reduction on      reliably estimated the amount or identified the location of these lands. The
Lands in Three          agencies’ draft cohesive strategy emphasizes the importance of treating
                        lands that have excess fuels buildup and lands in the wildland-urban
Categories, but More    interface with fuels reduction. In addition, the draft cohesive strategy
Efforts Are Needed to   mentions that a third category should be considered as welllands that
Estimate the Amount     require regular maintenance to prevent excess fuels buildup because
                        vegetation grows rapidly—but the strategy is unclear about whether lands
and Location of These   in this category are as important to treat as lands in the first two categories.
Lands                   Forest Service scientists have collected nationwide data on lands with
                        excess fuels buildup, but because the data were not detailed, scientists
                        could make only rough estimates of the amount; and they could not identify




                        Page 11                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                            the specific locations of these lands.2 Recognizing the need for more
                            accurate estimates, the agencies are currently deciding whether to fund a
                            project that would collect more detailed data on land with excess fuels
                            buildup nationwide. They have not yet clearly defined the parameters of
                            the wildland-urban interface, and consequently have been unable to collect
                            data that is relevant at the national level. In addition, the agencies have not
                            decided whether lands requiring regular maintenance treatments are
                            among the lands most at risk nationally and therefore most in need of fuels
                            reduction treatments. As a result, they have neither estimated the total
                            amount nor identified the location of such lands.



More Data Needed to         Although one of the categories of land targeted for fuels reduction in the
Identify Land with Excess   draft cohesive strategy is land with excess fuels buildup, the agencies have
                            not yet accurately estimated the amount or identified the location of these
Fuels Buildup
                            lands. In an attempt to gather nationwide data on these lands, in April 2001,
                            Forest Service scientists completed a national assessment of fuels buildup,
                            resulting in a map that classified all land in the contiguous 48 states as high,
                            moderate, or low risk for catastrophic wildfires. As figure 4 shows, the risk
                            depends on how much the vegetation has changed relative to historical
                            conditions, with the highest levels of fuels buildup corresponding to the
                            highest wildfire risk ranking.




                            2
                             The Forest Service and Interior jointly funded the initial assessment, and subsequent
                            studies were funded by the Forest Service.




                            Page 12                                          GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Figure 4: Wildfire Risk Levels




While the initial assessment provided a rough approximation of national
risk level, it could not be used to accurately discern the total amount of
land at high risk, or to identify specific locations of such land because it
was based on data that were not detailed and therefore was subject to a
considerable margin of error. The scientists estimated that about 75 million
acres of federal land were at high risk of wildfire, but because of the lack of
detail, the estimate was rough. The lack of detail was particularly limiting
on rangelands, where flammable nonnative weeds such as cheatgrass have



Page 13                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
replaced native plants in many areas, leaving the land vulnerable to fast-
moving, high-intensity fires. According to Forest Service scientists, the
initial data did not sufficiently depict nonforested lands including
rangelands. In many cases, nonnative and native plants grow in a scattered
patchwork pattern, and it is difficult to distinguish small patches of
nonnative plants without detailed data. To partially address this limitation,
in 2002 scientists studied vegetative conditions on some rangelands and
found that they had underestimated the amount of rangeland at high risk.
Adding this land to the 75 million acres in the initial assessment, they
concluded that about 90 million acres of federal land were at high risk to
wildfire. Aware that the lack of detail in the initial assessment also affected
forests, in 2003 scientists collected samples of more detailed data in several
forests in the West. The detailed data revealed that the initial assessment
had also underestimated the amount of land with excess fuels buildup in
forests, and consequently, the amount of land at high risk. Extrapolating
their findings to adjust the nationwide estimate, the scientists concluded
that about 190 million acres of federal land were at high risk, but they
acknowledged that the correct number could be anywhere from 90 to 200
million acres, considering the margin of error.

Recognizing the need for more accurate nationwide data about land with
excess fuels buildup, and aware of the limitations of existing assessments,
the Forest Service and Interior are taking actions to more accurately
estimate the amount and identify the location of such land with excess
fuels buildup. Over the long term, the agencies are considering a proposal
to collect more detailed nationwide data through a project called
LANDFIRE, but they have not yet decided whether to fund the project.
They have, however, begun to test a prototype in two areas, which will
serve as a model for applying the same methods nationwide.3 If
implemented, LANDFIRE is expected to provide accurate maps showing
specific locations of lands with excess fuels buildup and computer models
that can predict which areas are at highest risk of wildfire based on
vegetation type and condition, historical fire frequency, weather, and other
factors. Nevertheless, while the agencies have been considering the project
for years, they still have not fully funded it. We first examined LANDFIRE
in 1998, at which time agency officials initially showed us one of the




3
 Although the initial assessment covered only the 48 contiguous states, the new efforts will
cover all 50 states.




Page 14                                           GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                            prototype areas.4 We later reported on LANDFIRE in 2002, and found that it
                            had the potential to provide data critical for use in project prioritization,
                            but we had concerns that the project was no closer to being funded than it
                            was in 1998.5 Now, according to agency officials, data collection efforts in
                            the test areas has provided sufficient information to make a decision about
                            whether to fund and implement LANDFIRE, which is estimated to cost $33
                            million. Currently the agencies are contemplating funding the project as
                            soon as 2003, but they have not yet made a decision; and if it is
                            implemented, it is not scheduled to be complete until 2008 at the earliest.

                            In an effort to provide usable data in the interim, the Forest Service and
                            Interior have proposed completing by 2005 a nationwide rapid assessment
                            which would use information from a variety of sources, such as expert
                            opinion, statistical analysis, and data previously collected by state
                            agencies, local governments, and federal agencies. However, the agencies
                            have not funded this effort either. Furthermore, because the data used in
                            the rapid assessment would come from a mixture of sources, they would
                            vary in accuracy, reliability, and level of detail, among other things.
                            Consequently, the results of the rapid assessment would not be as accurate
                            as what is expected from LANDFIRE, bringing into question the value of
                            funding the rapid assessment in addition to LANDFIRE.



Consistent Definition       The President and Congress, as well as the Forest Service and Interior have
Needed before Land in the   stressed the importance of reducing fuels in the wildland-urban interface,
                            but the agencies have not developed a specific definition of wildland-urban
Wildland-Urban Interface    interface and therefore are unable to identify the amount and location of
Can Be Identified           lands in the interface nationwide. In January 2001, a definition of wildland-
                            urban interface was published in the Federal Register, but it is very general
                            and consequently, it has been interpreted inconsistently.6 The definition
                            classifies wildland-urban interface into two primary categories: (1) lands
                            where structures are directly adjacent to wildlands and (2) lands where


                            4
                             See U.S. General Accounting Office, Western National Forests: A Cohesive Strategy Is
                            Needed to Address Catastrophic Wildfire Threats, GAO/RCED-99-65 (Washington, D.C.:
                            Apr. 2, 1999).
                            5
                             See U.S. General Accounting Office, Severe Wildland Fires: Leadership and
                            Accountability Needed to Reduce Risks to Communities and Resources, GAO-02-259
                            (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 31, 2002).
                            6
                            66 Fed. Reg. 753 (2001).




                            Page 15                                        GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                          structures are scattered throughout a wildland area.7 The definition further
                                          specifies that wildland-urban interface includes communities ranging from
                                          suburban and urban neighborhoods (3 or more structures per acre) to
                                          widely dispersed rural dwellings (1 structure per 40 acres). The breadth of
                                          this definition allows for diverse interpretations—including, for example,
                                          subdivisions lining forest boundaries, remote summer cabins in the
                                          wilderness, or land surrounding powerlines crossing federal lands. On the
                                          basis of this definition of wildland-urban interface, the Forest Service and
                                          Interior allowed each state to identify a list of communities at risk from
                                          wildfire to be published in the Federal Register in August 2001. However,
                                          given the lack of specificity in the published definition of wildland-urban
                                          interface, each state used criteria it believed appropriate for selecting
                                          communities at risk. For example, figure 5 shows diverse types of land that
                                          states could include based on different definitions of wildland-urban
                                          interface.



Figure 5: Various Types of Wildland-Urban Interface




                                          As a result, some states provided much longer lists of communities at risk
                                          than other states, and there was no consistent standard for inclusion on the
                                          list. To resolve this inconsistency, the draft cohesive strategy calls for the
                                          states to develop a common definition of communities at risk by June




                                          7
                                           A third category included the less-common situation when structures, often within a city,
                                          abut an island of wildland fuels (e.g., a park or open space).




                                          Page 16                                          GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                            2003.8 Toward this end, the Forest Service and Interior have tasked the
                            National Association of State Foresters—an organization representing
                            state forestry departments—with developing uniform guidance for states to
                            use in identifying wildland-urban interface communities at risk, but this
                            process is no more likely to result in a consistently-applied definition of
                            wildland-urban interface than the former one. The guidance, now in draft,
                            sets out four criteria and recommends that states assign an adjective rating
                            such as high, medium, or low risk to each community or wildland-urban
                            interface area identified. If implemented, the guidance would provide a
                            methodology for states to generally assess relative risk; but because each
                            state would interpret and apply high, medium, and low risk independently,
                            the risk rankings would not be comparable on a nationwide basis. In
                            addition, the guidance does not define wildland-urban interface, instead
                            allowing each state to develop its own definition. For example, some states
                            may develop a very narrow definition that includes only land immediately
                            surrounding housing subdivisions, while other states may develop a
                            definition that includes remote ranches and cabins used only seasonally, as
                            well as land surrounding public resources, such as power lines or
                            communications equipment. The Forest Service and Interior will again be
                            left with multiple, inconsistent definitions developed independently by
                            each state, and because of this inconsistency the lands identified through
                            the process will not be comparable. As a result, the process will not enable
                            national decision-makers to accurately determine how much land is in the
                            wildland-urban interface nationwide, or where it is located. While the task
                            of developing a specific, consistently used definition of wildland-urban
                            interface is a challenging one requiring difficult decisions to be made, if the
                            Forest Service and Interior do not develop such a definition, not only will
                            they be unable to accurately identify which lands are in the wildland-urban
                            interface nationwide, but they will also be unable to identify the highest
                            priority lands for fuels reduction treatments.



Agencies Unclear About      Although the agencies have been using regular maintenance treatments as
Importance of Maintenance   part of their risk prevention strategy in the Southeast for decades, and
                            almost half of the annual acres treated under the fuels reduction program
Treatments in Fuels         have been in this category, the Forest Service and Interior have not
Reduction Program           clarified whether the treatment of these acres is as important as the
                            treatment of lands with excess fuels buildup and lands in the wildland-


                            8
                            As of August 2003, a common definition of communities at risk had not been developed.




                            Page 17                                        GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                       urban interface. Rather, the draft cohesive strategy separately
                       acknowledges the value of continuing maintenance treatments in some
                       areas to prevent them from becoming quickly overloaded with fuels,
                       especially in the Southeast where vegetation grows rapidly. Because the
                       agencies have not determined whether the maintenance acres are as
                       important as lands with excess fuels buildup and lands in the wildland-
                       urban interface, they do not plan to assess the total amount of maintenance
                       acres that need to be treated nationwide.

                       The vegetation in southeastern forests builds up more quickly than it does
                       in the West because it grows rapidly. Consequently, agency officials in the
                       Southeast conduct fuels reduction treatments frequently in an attempt to
                       prevent the forests from developing excess fuels buildup and increasing the
                       risk that a wildfire there would grow into a catastrophic one. For example,
                       on some national forests in the Southeast, fuels reduction treatments are
                       scheduled on various acres of the forest annually, such that the entire
                       forest is treated every 3 to 5 years. According to agency officials, this
                       approach maintains forests at the low wildfire risk level, and prevents them
                       from growing into a condition that would put them at a higher wildfire risk
                       level. The agencies have been reducing fuels in the Southeast this way for
                       decades. In contrast, fuels reduction in most of the West has increased
                       significantly since the beginning of the National Fire Plan in 2001. With
                       these increased efforts—and needs— in other parts of the country, the
                       agencies must now determine whether maintenance efforts in the
                       Southeast should have the same priority as fuels reduction efforts
                       elsewhere, and if so, assess the total amount and location of lands in need
                       of maintenance treatments nationwide.



Local Land Units       Local land units use a variety of methods to prioritize lands within the three
                       categories identified by the Forest Service and Interior as needing fuels
Prioritize Projects    reduction. In large part, local units use different methods because the
Using a Variety of     Forest Service and Interior give them wide latitude to do so through broad
                       national guidance. Prioritization decisions are particularly significant given
Methods Because of a   that the three categories of land identified by the agencies—land with
Lack of Specific       excess fuels buildup, land in the wildland-urban interface, and land that
National Guidance      requires maintenance to prevent excess fuels buildup—could collectively
                       include nearly all federal land. Nevertheless, prioritization decisions are
                       deferred to the local level because there is not sufficient data at the
                       national level to guide prioritization decisions.




                       Page 18                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
At the national level, the Forest Service and Interior are directed to allocate
fuels reduction funding to regional and state offices that have the greatest
fire management workload, risk to communities, and fuels buildup.
However, given the lack of consistent nationwide data on risk to
communities and fuels buildup, it is difficult for the agencies to allocate
funding according to these criteria. In practice, funding allocations are
primarily influenced by historical workload and funding levels, and
proportional allocations tend to be similar from year to year. Consequently,
it is left to the local land units to identify the highest priority locations for
fuels reduction treatments.

The national guidance in the draft cohesive strategy sets out a long list of
criteria to be considered by local units in prioritizing projects, including
selecting projects that protect wildlife habitat, contracting for work outside
of federal agencies, and offsetting costs through the sale of firewood.
Furthermore, the guidance also offers local officials the discretion to make
exceptions to the national criteria. The result is that nearly any method of
project selection—and nearly any project—is allowable. As shown in figure
6, we grouped the various prioritization methods used by the local land
units that we visited into three general types: (1) professional judgment and
staff discussions, (2) scoring systems, and (3) schedules of recurring
treatments. In addition to these three methods, local units consider a wide
variety of criteria when prioritizing projects; and as discussed below, even
units that use the same method may not emphasize the same criteria in
prioritization decisions. A complete record of the methods used and the
criteria considered at all 17 units is shown in figure 16, in appendix IV.




Page 19                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Figure 6: Methods Used to Prioritize Projects at 17 Local Units




The most common method used by the local units we visited to prioritize
projects for 2002 is professional judgment or staff discussions. Specifically,
under this method, agency officials make decisions either individually or in
groups through discussions among staff members, but they do not assign
numeric scores to potential projects or use a quantitative process. In some
cases, however, they consider scientific data and other systematically
documented criteria, while in other cases, the process is informal and
undocumented. For example, at BLM’s San Juan Field Office in Colorado,
the fuels manager identifies and prioritizes projects based on his
knowledge of fuels buildup, location of nearby communities, and
accessibility to the project area. He also consults with county fire chiefs
and reviews community fire plans to identify additional projects, and he
aims to distribute projects evenly across various counties. He does not,
however, refer to scientific data, or follow a formal process of ranking
potential projects. At the Klamath National Forest in northern California,
the staff rely on informal discussions to prioritize projects, in part, because
they do not have accurate, recent data to use in assessing vegetative type or
condition and scoring projects. According to an agency official, the most
recent vegetation data for this forest were collected during the 1970s. In
contrast, at the Deschutes and the Ochoco National Forests in Oregon staff
discussions to determine prioritization are guided by a documented list of
prioritization criteria. They consider local data on type of vegetation,



Page 20                                      GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
amount of fuels buildup, and predicted fire behavior, as well as other
criteriaincluding but not limited to the number of acres the potential
project will cover and whether the project is (1) coordinated with other
agencies, (2) will benefit other resources, (3) will cost less than $50 per
acre, and (4) has completed planning documents. Agency officials at these
forests said they want to retain the subjective quality of the process and
have therefore not put the criteria in order or developed a numeric scoring
system.

Among local units that prioritize projects through professional judgment or
staff discussions, there is considerable diversity in the extent to which they
involve nearby communities. For example, at the San Juan National Forest
in southwestern Colorado, agency officials rely on a list of potential
projects identified in local community planning documents to initially
select all mechanical fuels reduction projects. Forest Service officials then
conduct on-the-ground surveys to verify that the projects are feasible and
suitable. Typically, however, they do not consult additional data on
vegetative type and condition, fire history, or other characteristics. Instead,
they choose to give priority to community preferences. Most other local
land units we visited do not emphasize community involvement in the
project prioritization process to this extent; but some consider community
acceptance as one of several factors when selecting projects. For example,
at the Stanislaus National Forest in California, projects are given higher
priority when adjacent landowners are willing to coordinate
implementation of fuels reduction projects and given lower priority when
agency officials believe it is likely that informal resistance or formal legal
challenges from the community will impede the project.

Some local units we visited use a scoring system to prioritize projects. For
example, at the Los Padres National Forest in California, agency officials
have developed a detailed scheme for assigning points to potential projects
based on a set of weighted criteria. Each project is assigned points for,
among other factors, type and age of vegetation proximity to recent fires
and proximity to communities. Managers refer to detailed Geographic
Information System maps with data on vegetation type and age, and
locations of historical fires to determine the number of points to assign.
Once potential projects have been assigned points, they are ranked; and
those with the most points are selected for implementation.

Some local units in the Southeast rely on schedules of recurring treatments
to select projects for maintenance treatments. Under such a schedule, each
year fuels reduction projects are implemented in areas where more time



Page 21                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
has elapsed since the last treatment because these areas generally have the
greatest fuels buildup. For example, at the Bienville National Forest in
Mississippi, agency officials schedule prescribed burns on each parcel of
land in the forest every 3 to 5 years. To schedule specific parcels for
treatment, agency officials rely on two primary resources. First, they use a
prescribed burn atlas, in which local officials have documented the
location of every prescribed burn completed each year. Second, agency
officials also record the locations of wildfires because fuels reduction may
be unnecessary in areas where wildfires have recently occurred.

In addition to the variation among local units in the methods used and
criteria considered for prioritizing projects, there is variation in how they
apply the criteria. For example, all of the local land units that we visited
attempt to give priority to projects in the wildland-urban interface, but they
do so to varying degrees. Specifically, some units implement only projects
that are in the interface, others complete projects both inside and outside
of the interface; and two units that we visited did not implement any
projects in the interface in 2002, but planned to do so in 2003. Further,
because there is no specific national definition of wildland-urban interface
and states have not yet developed their own definitions, it is left to local
units to define it; and they do so differently. For example, the Apalachicola
National Forest in Florida defines wildland-urban interface to include all
land within 5 miles of a populated area, while several units include land
within 1.5 miles of a populated area; and some units do not use a uniform
definition, instead relying on case-by-case determinations. At the White
River National Forest near Vail, Colorado, much of the wildland-urban
interface is in areas where the views are critical to the economic health of
the resort town according to an agency official. Consequently, land
managers use an expansive definition of wildland-urban interface that
includes land that is part of the view from the town, as well as the
populated areas. BLM’s Surprise Field Office in rural California classifies
scattered ranches as wildland-urban interface. Also, some local units
consider land around features such as municipal watersheds or power lines
to be wildland-urban interface, while others include only land surrounding
residential and commercial buildings.

Although we did not find that local units had implemented projects that
were unimportant according to agency guidance, this guidance is so broad
that nearly any project could be considered a priority. In addition, as more
projects are completed, there will be fewer priority projects left in some
localities, and it will become increasingly difficult to ensure that fuels
reduction efforts are focused in areas that are a priority nationwide. To



Page 22                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                        provide such assurance, in the future the agencies may need to redistribute
                        funding according to where the highest concentrations of priority projects
                        are located nationwide. However, without more specific national guidance
                        on systematically prioritizing projects, and more consistent application of
                        the guidance at local units, nearly any project may continue to qualify as a
                        priority. In this context, it is difficult for the Forest Service and Interior to
                        ensure that the highest priority projects nationwide are being implemented.



Fuels Reduction         Several factors have hindered local land units in completing their annual
                        fuels reduction workloads. As shown in figure 7, weather was the
Efforts Hindered by a   predominant factor in preventing fuels reduction projects from being
Number of Factors       implemented at the 17 local land units we visited, according to agency
                        officials. This factor was followed by diversion of resources from fuels
                        reduction efforts to fire suppression, then by other factors related to
                        planning and funding issues. (See app. III for additional details.) In 2002,
                        largely as a result of these factors, the agencies treated only about 2.3
                        million acres, or 56 percent of the approximately 4 million acres they were
                        ready to treat. Given these factors, some local officials were uncertain
                        whether increased funding would result in a proportional increase in acres
                        treated under the fuels reduction program.



                        Figure 7: Reasons Why Fuels Reduction Treatments Were Not Implemented by 17
                        Local Units, FY 2002




                        Page 23                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Weather Was the Most         Based on our discussions with officials at the 17 local land units we visited,
Prominent Factor Hindering   weather was the most prominent factor that hindered the implementation
                             of fuels reduction projects in 2002, which accounted for over 40 percent of
Fuels Reduction Program      all fuels reduction project delays at these units. For example, of the 10,259
                             acres planned for treatment in 2002 at the San Juan National Forest in
                             Colorado, 6,757 acres, or 66 percent were not treated because of severe
                             drought conditions. In addition, of the 2,248 acres planned for treatment at
                             the BLM Alturas Field Office in California, consisting of primarily
                             rangelands and juniper trees, 1,195 acres, or 53 percent, were not treated
                             because of a variety of weather-related factors. According to local land unit
                             officials, very specific weather conditions are required for every prescribed
                             burn, which often leaves a small window of opportunity to complete fuels
                             reduction treatments. The officials explained that it is dangerous to ignite
                             prescribed burns under high temperatures, drought conditions, high winds,
                             or unfavorable wind directions, because these conditions can cause a
                             prescribed fire to spread out of control or emit excessive smoke over
                             nearby urban areas and thoroughfares. It can also be dangerous to thin
                             vegetation using mechanical means during drought conditions because
                             many of the machines used for thinning can cause sparks that officials fear
                             could ignite excessively dry vegetation. On the other hand, it can be
                             difficult to ignite prescribed burns if the vegetation is too wet, which makes
                             treatments difficult to complete in the fall and winter months in some
                             areas. For these reasons, the number of days per year when the weather
                             will allow local units to administer fuels reduction treatments can be quite
                             small. For example, in 2002, officials at the Osceola National Forest in
                             Florida said that because of weather-related factors they had about 60 days
                             to conduct fuels reduction treatments. As a result, out of the 47,000 acres
                             planned for treatment in 2002 at the Osceola National Forest, 34,000 acres,
                             or 72 percent, were not treated because a prescribed burn within the
                             forest’s swamplands during drought conditions could have emitted heavy
                             smoke onto a major interstate. If acres are not treated within a specific
                             window of opportunity, their treatments are generally delayed until the
                             next fiscal year or later.



Fuels Reduction Was          Another factor that hindered the agencies’ completion of fuels reduction
Hindered by Diversion of     projects in 2002 was the diversion of agency resources—funding and
                             staff—from fuels reduction to fire suppression during the severe fire
Resources to Fire
Suppression




                             Page 24                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
season.9 This factor accounted for 30 percent of all project delays at the
local units we visited. In 2002, the nation endured the second most severe
fire season in half a century. In all, wildland fires burned 6.9 million acres,
far above the 10-year annual average of 4.2 million acres; Colorado,
Arizona, and Oregon recorded their largest timber fires in the last century.
In fact, in the last 10-year period (1993-2002) the number of years with
severe fire seasons has been extremely high, as shown in figure 8. Over this
period, the number of federal acres burned by wildfires has steadily
increased.



Figure 8: Number of Acres Burned by Wildfires, 1993-2002




Because suppression costs are budgeted based on the 10-year average of
actual suppression costs and have not been fully funded in recent years, the


9
 In 2002, the fire season was particularly severe. Agencies may not experience the same
resource diversions in years when the fire season is less severe. However, recent history
suggests that agencies will continue to face severe fire seasons in the future. (See fig. 8.)




Page 25                                             GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Forest Service and Interior have, in some cases, diverted funds from the
fuels reduction program to cover the costs of fire suppression. According
to Forest Service regional officials, although the fuels reduction program
generally gets reimbursed the next fiscal year, the uncertainty and the
timing of the reimbursement makes planning projects difficult, especially
given the sometimes small window of opportunity for conducting
treatments. As such, diverting funds from fuels reduction can delay fuels
reduction projects. For example, in 2002, the Klamath National Forest in
California shifted about 22 percent of its approximately $570,000 fuels
reduction budget to support national fire suppression efforts. As a result,
the forest was unable to treat over 500 acres or about 15 percent of its
annual target.

In addition to funds, staff were also diverted from the fuels reduction
program to fire suppression. In some cases, fuels reduction staff were
deployed locally or nationally to fight wildfires. In other cases, local units
had the staff available to complete the fuels reduction work but were
prevented from doing so because of national fire fighting preparedness
restrictions put into place by the Forest Service and Interior. These
restrictions, dictated by burning conditions, fire activity, and resource
availability, limit or cancel fuels reduction work to ensure that the
necessary personnel are prepared and immediately available for local or
national fire suppression duties. During 2002, the national preparedness
restrictions rose to the highest level possible, 5 weeks earlier than ever
before; and they remained at that level for a record-setting 62 days.
According to local officials, at the highest preparedness level, the Forest
Service and Interior generally cancel all fuels reduction work across the
country, no matter what the local weather conditions are or the number of
staff on hand to do the work. As a result, some local units were not able to
complete their 2002 fuels reduction workloads. For example, the BLM
Prineville District in Oregon, which primarily consists of juniper trees and
rangelands, was unable to treat over 3,500 acres because of the national
restrictions. Staffing obligations for fire suppression even affected the fuels
reduction efforts of the local units in the Southeast. For example, out of the
145,208 acres scheduled for treatment in 2002 at the Apalachicola National
Forest in Florida, 31,518 acres, or 22 percent were not treated owing, in
part, to the national fire restrictions. In addition, nearly 20 percent of the
54,634 acres planned at the Bienville National Forest in Mississippi were
not treated because local staff were deployed to fight western wildfires. If
the trend illustrated in figure 8 continues, more instances of funds and staff
being diverted to fire suppression could take place in the future.




Page 26                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Agency Officials Cited     In addition to the weather and the diversion of resources, local land unit
Additional Factors That    officials also cited, to a lesser degree, other factors that affected the fuels
                           reduction program. These factors included such things as public resistance
Affected Fuels Reduction   to fuels reduction projects, administrative work to fulfill regulatory
                           requirements, and the uncertainty of annual funding. Citizens may
                           generally challenge a local unit’s decision to proceed with a fuels reduction
                           project. This allows greater citizen involvement in the fuels reduction
                           program. While the issue of formal public resistance, such as appeals and
                           litigation, has recently been contentious, only a few local land unit officials
                           we visited indicated that this type of resistance had delayed particular fuels
                           reduction treatments. Local unit officials noted that more informal
                           methods of public resistance to fuels reduction have prevented them from
                           completing treatments and can even dissuade them from planning projects
                           in some areas. For example, agency officials from a national forest in
                           Oregon told us that they terminated a prescribed burning project that was
                           in progress because they received numerous complaints from local
                           residents about the smoke. Since that incident, officials have been hesitant
                           to initiate prescribed burns in the area, they said. Other local unit officials
                           stated that, because of the possibility of public resistance over fuels
                           reduction work and the necessity to comply with regulatory requirements,
                           their staff has to spend more time researching and analyzing the possible
                           impacts of fuels reduction treatments. For example, according to officials
                           at the Los Padres National Forest in California, many of their projects are
                           delayed for months while waiting for the mandatory external consultations
                           to comply with the Endangered Species Act. In another example, a recent
                           Forest Service report noted that to avert legal challenges at the Santa Fe
                           watershed project, Forest Service officials spent almost 5 years and $1
                           million on planning and public involvement.10

                           Another factor that affects fuels reduction projects at the local level is the
                           uncertainty of annual funding. Some local officials stated that it is difficult
                           to plan projects, especially multiyear projects, without consistent and
                           sustained funding over a period of years. Officials also said that the timing
                           of the budget cycle makes planning difficult because the annual budget
                           process and fuels reduction planning cycle often overlap with the fire
                           season. According to one local unit, officials often do not know how much
                           funding they will receive until April—well past the fall and winter months,

                           10
                            U.S. Forest Service, The Process Predicament: How Statutory, Regulatory and
                           Administrative Factors Affect National Forest Management, (Washington, D.C.; June
                           2002).




                           Page 27                                       GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
which are ideal for planning. Other officials explained that it is difficult to
hire people, identify targets, and write contracts when they do not know
the amount of funding they will receive. Because of this uncertainty,
officials pointed out, it is often necessary to fund fuels reduction projects
piece by piece. When projects are funded piecemeal and the following
years’ funding is not guaranteed, projects may remain incomplete for
several years. Under these circumstances, costly and time-consuming
regulatory paperwork may have to be redone, because much of the
necessary environmental analysis needs to be updated after 3 to 5 years. In
addition, projects that are only partially complete can leave areas more
susceptible to wildfire risk than they were before their initial treatments
because vegetation that is cut but left on the ground or stacked in piles
creates a dry, dense concentration of fuels that can be highly flammable.
While local units were generally more concerned about the timing of the
budget cycle, officials at five of the local land units we visited indicated
that inadequate funding itself was a factor that hindered the
implementation of fuels reduction treatments. The most notable example
was the Los Padres National Forest, where officials claimed that they were
not able to complete over 44,000 acres, or approximately 96 percent, of
their fuels reduction workload in part because of limited funding. In
addition to these factors, local officials also mentioned staffing and
contractor shortages as sometimes limiting their ability to plan and
implement fuels reduction projects.

The Forest Service and Interior acknowledge these factors that hinder the
fuels reduction program, and some local land units have made efforts to
address them.

• The BLM San Juan District in Colorado and other local land units
  sponsor public education programs and citizen meetings to help curb
  public resistance to fuels reduction work.

• Officials at the Bienville National Forest in Mississippi said they
  regularly have more acres ready for treatment than they expect to treat,
  as part of their annual workload. This gives them the flexibility to treat
  other acres if adverse factors prevent them from treating the acres
  originally scheduled.

• Officials at the Osceola National Forest in Florida said that they borrow
  resources from other local area forests and adjust workforce schedules
  to take advantage of ideal weather conditions.




Page 28                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                         • To help streamline the planning process, officials at the Klamath
                           National Forest in California prepare a “programmatic biological
                           assessment” which can accommodate the necessary regulatory
                           compliance paperwork for several fuels reduction projects.

                         While these efforts are encouraging, some factors hindering the fuels
                         reduction program, such as the weather, are beyond human control; and it
                         is uncertain whether increased funding would result in a proportional
                         increase in acres treated under the fuels reduction program.



Agencies Recognize       The Forest Service and Interior currently measure the performance of the
                         fuels reduction program by counting the actual number of acres treated.
Need to Better           Assessing the performance of the fuels reduction program by counting the
Measure the Effect of    number of acres treated is problematic, however, because it does not
                         provide information on how or if the level of risk to catastrophic wildfire
Fuels Reduction          has been reduced. To address this weakness, the Forest Service and
Treatments, but Annual   Interior are currently developing results-oriented performance measures to
Reporting Practices      better assess the effects of fuels reduction treatments. The new
                         performance measures are intended to assess how well the treatments are
Need Improvement         reducing the risk of wildfire by counting the number of acres where the
                         vegetative condition of the land has been converted to a lower level of
                         wildfire risk. However, because the Forest Service and Interior do not
                         currently have detailed nationwide baseline data on wildfire risk and
                         vegetative condition, the assessment of risk level is generally left up to the
                         judgment of local land officials. As such, it will be difficult to ensure that
                         any change in wildfire risk as reported in annual performance reports is
                         consistent and accurate.

                         The current method of reporting annual performance under the fuels
                         reduction program is resulting in misleading data on what is actually being
                         accomplished. For example, reporting on the total number of acres actually
                         treated during the year provides an inaccurate assessment on what is being
                         accomplished to reduce the overall risk of catastrophic wildfire because
                         maintenance acres are being reported together with other acres that are
                         treated primarily to reduce the level of wildfire risk. Maintenance acres,
                         currently located primarily in the Southeast, receive regular and frequent
                         treatments to control their rapid vegetation growth and maintain them at a
                         low risk to wildfire. According to agency officials, failure to regularly treat
                         these acres could quickly result in a higher risk to catastrophic wildfire. All
                         four local land units we visited in the Southeast treat the same acres at
                         each of their units about every 3 to 5 years to keep the vegetation from



                         Page 29                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
growing and maintain them at a low level of wildfire risk. While the
treatment of these types of acres is important to maintain a low risk of
wildfire, reporting the treatment of these acres annually together with
nonmaintenance acres—those acres treated primarily to reduce the overall
risk of catastrophic wildfire—in annual performance reports is misleading
the Congress and the public over exactly what the agencies are
accomplishing with the fuels reduction program.

For example, if the Forest Service and Interior were to treat a total of 2
million acres per year for the next 10 years, of which 1 million acres per
year were maintenance acres, and the other 1 million acres per year were
treated to reduce the level of wildfire risk, the performance reports as
currently structured would indicate that the agencies had treated 20 million
acres toward the total number of acres nationwide that are at risk to
wildfire. However, this assessment would be incorrect in two ways. First,
the 1 million maintenance acres treated and reported were most likely
treated 2 to 3 times, thus reported 2 to 3 times during the 10-year period,
making the number of new acres actually treated one third or one half of
the 20 million reported. Second, because maintenance acres will continue
to require additional treatments beyond the 10-year period, it is misleading
to link these treatments to any long-term progress in further reducing the
total lands at risk to wildfire. This reporting practice can be especially
misleading under the fuels reduction program because of the large
proportion of maintenance acres treated each year, compared with the
other acres treated. For example, as shown in figure 9, for the 3-year period
for which the agencies have been counting the number of acres treated for
fuels reduction under the National Fire Plan (2001-2003), between 40 to 50
percent of the total acres treated, or were planned to be treated, each year
have been maintenance acres in the Southeast.




Page 30                                  GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Figure 9: Percentage of Acres Treated or Planned for Treatment in the Southeast by
the Forest Service and Interior, FY 2001-2003




Furthermore, as the fuels reduction program progresses in the future and
an increasing amount of acres are reduced to a low level of catastrophic
wildfire risk, treatments to maintain these acres may become an even
greater proportion of the agencies’ annual fuels reduction nationwide
workload. For example, the BLM Medford District in Oregon stated that
most of their lands would require maintenance treatments in 7 or 8 years.
As a result, because maintenance acres are counted together with
nonmaintenance acres, it will continue to be difficult to accurately assess
how annual fuels reduction accomplishments are reducing the total
number of acres at risk to wildfire over time.

Also under the current reporting system, the way acres are reported when
multiple treatments are necessary to reduce the risk of wildfire is also
resulting in misleading data on what is actually being accomplished for that
year. By reporting multiple treatments on the same acres as separate
accomplishments, the agencies are creating the impression that more acres



Page 31                                     GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
              are receiving treatments than what is actually occurring. Specifically, not
              all of the acres reported as treated in annual performance reports reflect
              “new” accomplishments—some of the same acres may have been reported
              as treated in the previous fiscal year. For example, on one national forest in
              Oregon, 13,000 acres were treated in 2002 and reported as
              accomplishments. However, about 5,600 acres of the 13,000 acres, or 43
              percent, were also treated in 2001 and reported as accomplishments in
              2001. As such, only about 7,400 “new” acres were actually treated in fiscal
              year 2002. In addition, over 500 of the 5,600 acres treated in 2001 were also
              treated and reported a third time in 2002. While reporting acres in this
              manner is an appropriate workload measure, it is nonetheless difficult to
              assess the progress of the fuels reduction program beyond a single fiscal
              year if some of the same acres are reported year after year in annual
              performance reports.



Conclusions   The Forest Service and Interior are working collaboratively to reduce the
              buildup of underbrush and other vegetative fuels that has accumulated to
              dangerous levels over the past several decades. Because this task is an
              enormous undertaking, it will be nearly impossible for the agencies to treat
              all of this land. Instead, they must first treat the areas where the threat of
              wildfire presents the greatest risk. As such, the agencies will have to make
              difficult decisions about which locations should be treated first, and
              allocate funding accordingly. Before the Forest Service and Interior can
              accurately identify which lands need fuels reduction, they will have to
              collect detailed data on lands with excess fuels buildup. Recognizing this
              need, they are considering funding the LANDFIRE project as well as an
              interim rapid assessment to collect these data. However, given that the
              rapid assessment is unlikely to provide results that are as accurate and
              consistent nationwide as those from LANDFIRE, we believe the agencies
              should concentrate their efforts on LANDFIRE. In addition, the agencies
              will have to define which lands are part of the wildland-urban interface and
              determine whether lands that require regular maintenance are as important
              to treat as other lands. Without doing so, they will be constrained in their
              ability to prioritize locations for fuels reduction treatments and allocate
              funding accordingly. In the future, as more projects are completed, it will
              be increasingly important to ensure that high-risk areas are identified
              systematically so the agencies can identify the highest priority locations
              nationwide and allocate funding accordingly. Also, because fuels reduction
              will require a long-term sustained effort, it will be essential to report
              accurate data concerning what is actually being accomplished so that the
              progress made each year through these efforts may be monitored. To this



              Page 32                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                      end, the agencies need to report accomplishments so that the number of
                      acres on which the level of wildfire risk is reduced in a given year can be
                      distinguished from other acres on which fuels reduction work was
                      accomplished.



Recommendations for   To better ensure that federal lands most in need of fuels reduction are
                      treated, and provide the Congress and the relevant agencies with better
Executive Action      information for making fuels reduction funding decisions, we recommend
                      that the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior direct the agencies to

                      • fund and implement LANDFIRE so they can more accurately identify
                        the amount and location of lands with excess fuels buildup and facilitate
                        the prioritization of fuels reduction treatments;

                      • develop a consistent, specific definition of the wildland-urban interface
                        so that detailed, comparable nationwide data can be collected to
                        identify the amount and location of lands in the wildland-urban interface
                        which will facilitate the prioritization of fuels reduction treatments;

                      • decide whether lands that require regular maintenance treatments are
                        an important area needing continuous fuels reduction treatments and, if
                        so, identify the amount and location of these lands nationwide to
                        facilitate the prioritization of fuels reduction treatments; and

                      • distinguish in annual performance reports (1) acres that are treated to
                        reduce the level of risk of wildfire from high or moderate to low; (2)
                        acres that require multiple treatments over several years to reduce their
                        risk of wildfire; and (3) acres being treated to maintain their low risk to
                        wildfire, to more accurately reflect the actual progress being made
                        under the fuels reduction program.



Agency Comments and   We provided a draft of this report to the Secretaries of Agriculture and of
                      the Interior for review and comment. The departments provided a
Our Evaluation        consolidated, written response to our report, which is included in appendix
                      V of this report. The departments stated that the report aptly described the
                      nature of the fuels problem on public lands in both its scope and severity.
                      The departments agreed that prioritization is essential to program
                      effectiveness and acknowledged that it may be possible to create broad
                      categories of high, medium, and low priority for fuel treatments. They



                      Page 33                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
further indicated that they are nearing a decision on whether to fund and
implement LANDFIRE. Regarding our recommendation that they decide
whether lands requiring regular maintenance are an important part of the
fuels reduction program, the departments said they had decided that these
lands are an integral part of the program. However, they expressed
concerns related to our recommendations that they develop a specific
definition of the wildland-urban interface and that they distinguish among
categories of fuels treatments when reporting accomplishments.

The departments commented that it has been difficult to reach consensus
on a specific definition of the wildland-urban interface and they believe
that (1) landscape differences preclude the application of a single
geographic definition and (2) a too-detailed definition would compromise
the effectiveness of local collaboration and community participation in this
process. We recognize that reaching consensus on a specific definition is
difficult. We are not advocating an inflexible geographic definition such as
one based on a uniform radius around communities. On the contrary, we
agree that landscape differences should be considered when defining the
wildland-urban interface. We do, however, believe that a more specific
definition than currently exists is needed to provide greater consistency
among local units when selecting projects in the wildland-urban interface;
and we believe that such a definition could be compatible with landscape
differences. We also continue to believe that without narrowing the
definition of what constitutes wildland-urban interface, a wide variety and
large quantity of land will continue to fit within the broad definition; and it
will be difficult for the departments to identify the highest priority areas for
fuels reduction nationwide.

In commenting on our recommendation that the agencies distinguish
among the types of acres treated in annual performance reports for the
fuels reduction program, the departments expressed concerns that our
report apparently assumes maintenance treatments and the first of multiple
treatments on the same acreage do not lower fire risk. We agree that
maintenance treatments do lower fire risk, but as noted in the report, we
believe that without separately reporting these treatments, it will be
difficult to accurately measure the progress that fuels reduction treatments
are having in reducing the total number of acres at the highest level of risk
to wildfire. To clarify this point, we have changed our recommendation to
more specifically focus on distinguishing treatments done in high or
moderate risk areas from treatments done in low-risk areas.




Page 34                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce the contents
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days after the
date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies of this report to the
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Public Lands
and Forests, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; the
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, House Committee on Resources;
the Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest
Health, House Committee on Resources; and other interested
congressional committees. We will also send copies of this report to the
Secretary of Agriculture; the Secretary of the Interior; the Chief of the
Forest Service; the Directors of BLM, the National Park Service, and the
Fish and Wildlife Service; the Deputy Commissioner, Bureau of Indian
Affairs; the Director, Office of Management and Budget; and other
interested parties. We will make copies available to others upon request. In
addition, this report will be available at no charge on GAO’s web site at
http://www.gao.gov/.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact me
at (202) 512-3841. Key contributors to this report are listed in app. VI.




Barry T. Hill
Director, Natural Resources and Environment




Page 35                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix I

Scope and Methodology                                                                         AA
                                                                                               ppp
                                                                                                 ep
                                                                                                  ned
                                                                                                    n
                                                                                                    x
                                                                                                    id
                                                                                                     e
                                                                                                     x
                                                                                                     Iis




             To assess the Forest Service’s and the Department of the Interior’s
             (Interior) efforts to determine which federal lands require fuels reduction
             treatments, we obtained interagency strategy and planning documents that
             described the mission of the fuels reduction program and an approach for
             achieving that mission. We interviewed department and agency officials in
             national, regional, and state offices, as well as at local land units. We
             obtained scientific studies about nationwide fuels buildup in forests and
             other vegetated areas from the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the
             Washington Office of Fire and Aviation Management, and we interviewed
             some of the authors. We reviewed a Forest Service proposal for a rapid
             assessment that will collect data on nationwide fuels buildup in the near-
             term and interviewed officials about LANDFIRE, a long-term plan to collect
             more detailed data on nationwide fuels buildup. We also interviewed
             regional and local unit officials from the Forest Service, Bureau of Land
             Management (BLM), the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Fish and Wildlife
             Service, and the National Park Service, as well as officials representing
             state departments of forestry, nonprofit organizations, and research
             institutions.

             To determine how local land units within the Forest Service and Interior
             prioritize land for fuels reduction treatments, we obtained interagency
             strategy documents and memorandums describing prioritization criteria
             and process requirements. We also obtained guidance from regional, state,
             and local offices where available. We interviewed Forest Service and BLM
             officials representing state and regional offices. We visited Forest Service
             and BLM fire and fuels specialists representing 11 national forests and 6
             BLM field offices located in California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, and
             Oregon. (See table 1.) We selected these two agencies because they
             received the largest funding allocations for fuels reduction and treated the
             most acres. We selected these states because they received the largest
             funding allocations and treated the most acres under the fuels reduction
             program. We included states in the Southeast as well as in the West to
             ensure that diverse vegetation, climate, and treatment strategies were
             represented. Through consultation with regional and state agency officials
             we selected local land units to visit that received the largest funding
             allocations, treated the most acres, and represented diversity, with respect
             to predominant vegetative type, treatment strategies used, and proximity to
             communities and urban development. In addition, we verified that some of
             the units we selected had faced challenges that prevented them from
             completing all of the fuels reduction projects they had planned to
             implement in 2002. Finally, we considered cost-effective logistics and travel
             for our staff in selecting the 17 local land units to visit. At each local land



             Page 36                                   GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




unit, we collected fiscal year 2002 and 2003 data about implemented and
planned fuels reduction projects; and in some cases, we observed field
locations where projects were proposed, had begun implementation, or
had been completed. While the results of our visits cannot be projected
nationwide, the locations represent a mix of local fuels reduction efforts
based on geographic diversity and level of funding.



Table 1: Local Land Units Visited by GAO

Agency and local land unit                    State
Forest Service
 Apalachicola National Forest                 Florida
 Bienville National Forest                    Mississippi
 Deschutes National Forest                    Oregon
 DeSoto National Forest                       Mississippi
 Klamath National Forest                      California
 Los Padres National Forest                   California
 Ochoco National Forest                       Oregon
 Osceola National Forest                      Florida
 San Juan National Forest                     Colorado
 Stanislaus National Forest                   California
 White River National Forest                  Colorado
BLM
 Alturas Field Office                         California
 Grand Junction Resource Area                 Colorado
 Medford District, Ashland Resource Area      Oregon
 Prineville District                          Oregon
 San Juan Field Office                        Colorado
 Surprise Field Office                        California
Source: GAO.


To identify factors that have hindered recent fuels reduction efforts, we
interviewed Forest Service and Interior officials in headquarters, regional,
and state offices, and collected data about the percentage of federal land
ready for fuels reduction treatments in 2002 that was treated. We
interviewed agency officials from the 17 Forest Service and BLM local land
units we visited and collected information about fuels reduction treatments
planned and completed for fiscal year 2002, and treatments planned for




Page 37                                    GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




fiscal year 2003. Specifically, for each treatment, officials provided the
number of acres covered, whether the treatment was in the wildland-urban
interface, the type of treatment used (e.g., prescribed burn or mechanical
treatment), whether the same area had been treated the previous year,
whether the treatment was completed as scheduled, and if not, the reasons
why the treatment was not completed.

To assess how the Forest Service and Interior measure progress under the
fuels reduction program, we reviewed interagency strategy and planning
documents that specified performance measures for the fuels reduction
program. We also collected nationwide accomplishment data for the fuels
reduction program in fiscal years 2001 and 2002 from the Forest Service,
BLM, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park
Service, and analyzed the data to detect patterns across fuels reduction
projects. These data were obtained from annual performance reports from
the Forest Service and Interior for fiscal years 2001 and 2002 that
summarized annual performance and provided quantitative data about
fuels reduction accomplishments and program costs nationwide. In
addition, we received planned accomplishment and projected cost data for
fiscal year 2003 directly from the agencies. We also reviewed the agency
files we received to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the data
required for our assessment. Finally, we interviewed agency officials in
headquarters, in the National Interagency Fire Center, and at local units to
obtain information about reporting systems and databases currently in use
and those planned for future use.

We conducted our work from June 2002 through May 2003 in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards.




Page 38                                  GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix II

Summary of Fuels Treatment
Accomplishments for the Forest Service and
Interior, FY 2001-2003                                                                                                                                            Appendx
                                                                                                                                                                        Ii




                                                            The following tables summarize the hazardous fuels reduction
                                                            accomplishments of the Forest Service and Interior for fiscal years 2001
                                                            and 2002 and planned accomplishments for 2003. The 2001 and 2002 tables
                                                            summarize the number of acres treated and total obligated costs for lands
                                                            both in and outside of the wildland-urban interface (WUI). The 2003 table
                                                            summarizes the number of acres the agencies plan to treat and the
                                                            projected costs of those treatments. Except where noted, the information
                                                            was taken from the annual National Fire Plan performance reports and was
                                                            further analyzed by GAO.



Table 2: Summary of FY 2001 Goals and Accomplishments

                                                      Percentage                                                                                   Non-
                                                       treated of                                                         Non-                      WUI     WUI
                      Acre                    Treated    planned                           WUI                            WUI        Non-WUI       cost/   cost/
Agency                targets                   acres       acres      Total costs        acres       WUI costs          acres         costs       acre    acre
Forest
Service               1,800,000            1,323,705         74% $145,473,000 611,551               $87,967,000       712,154 $57,506,000           $81     $144
Bureau of
Land
Management unavailable                       313,978                    58,784,000       98,590       40,823,000      215,388      17,961,000        83         414
Bureau of
Indian Affairs unavailable                     74,010                   25,544,000        8,415       18,212,000       65,595       7,332,000       112    2,164
National Park
Service       unavailable                      97,691                   12,204,000        2,843        1,640,000       94,848      10,564,000       111         577
Fish and
Wildlife
Service               unavailable            242,433                    18,263,000       54,489        8,795,000      187,944       9,468,000        50         161
Department
of Interior           1,400,000              728,112         52%      114,795,000 164,337             69,470,000      563,775      45,325,000        80         423
Total for FS
and Interior          3,200,000            2,051,817         64% $260,268,000 775,888 $157,437,000 1,275,929 102,831,000
Averages for
FS and
Interior              1,600,000              410,363         63%        52,053,600 155,178            31,487,400      255,186      20,566,200        81         203
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.

                                                            Notes: Totals do not include 197,148 acres of Wildland Fire Use including 37,992 acres for Forest
                                                            Service and 159,156 acres for Interior. Wildland Fire Use is the management of naturally ignited
                                                            wildland fires to accomplish specific resource management objectives.
                                                            Forest Service cost data are project totals and do not reflect administrative costs.




                                                            Page 39                                                 GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix II
Summary of Fuels Treatment
Accomplishments for the Forest Service and
Interior, FY 2001-2003




Figure 10: Fiscal Year 2001 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Acre Distribution




Figure 11: Fiscal Year 2001 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Cost Distribution




Page 40                                      GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                            Appendix II
                                                            Summary of Fuels Treatment
                                                            Accomplishments for the Forest Service and
                                                            Interior, FY 2001-2003




Table 3: Summary of FY 2002 Goals and Accomplishments

                                                      Percentage                                                                                     Non-
                                                       treated of                                                                                     WUI        WUI
                           Planned            Treated    planned                           WUI                 Non-WUI                Non-WUI       costs/      cost/
Agency                        acres             acres       acres      Total costs        acres      WUI costs   acres                  costs        acre        acre
Forest
Service                  2,101,234 1,198,518                 57% $127,379,000           764,367 $73,524,000           434,151      $53,855,000          $124     $96
Bureau of
Land
Management                  862,321          321,087         37%        80,850,000      118,275      54,979,000       202,812       25,871,000          128      465
Bureau of
Indian Affairs              246,634          120,761         49%        25,731,000       24,501      14,911,000        96,260       10,820,000          112      609
National Park
Service                     212,166          163,511         77%        27,485,000       15,030      10,559,000       148,481       16,926,000          114      703
Fish and
Wildlife
Service                     578,694          453,605         78%        25,314,000       51,514      10,210,000       402,091       15,104,000            38     198
Department of
Interior                 1,899,815 1,058,964                 56%      159,380,000       209,320      90,659,000       849,644       68,721,000            81     433
Total for FS
and Interior             4,001,049 2,257,482                 56% $286,759,000           973,687 164,183,000 1,283,795 $122,576,000
Averages for
FS and
Interior                    800,210          451,496         60%        57,351,800      194,737      32,836,600       256,759       24,515,200            95     169
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.

                                                            Notes: Planned acres refer to the total amount of land that the agency would like to treat in the fiscal
                                                            year. These acres do not refer to formal targets or goals, and agencies do not use them for
                                                            accountability purposes. Formal targets are established when the agencies receive their final
                                                            appropriations and are further adjusted as additional challenges arise.
                                                            Forest Service dollar amounts are project totals and do not reflect administrative costs.
                                                            In addition to above accomplishments, 1,024,846 acres (59,385 for Forest Service and 965,441 for
                                                            Interior) were "treated" through Wildland Fire Use. Also, an additional 458,456 acres were treated
                                                            through the Forest Service’s Forest Health Program. The total for all of these acres is 1,483,300.




                                                            Page 41                                                  GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix II
Summary of Fuels Treatment
Accomplishments for the Forest Service and
Interior, FY 2001-2003




Figure 12: Fiscal Year 2002 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Acre Distribution




Figure 13: Fiscal Year 2002 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Cost Distribution




Page 42                                      GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                               Appendix II
                                                               Summary of Fuels Treatment
                                                               Accomplishments for the Forest Service and
                                                               Interior, FY 2001-2003




Table 4: Summary of FY 2003 Planned Accomplishments

                                             Planned                             WUI                           Non-WUI           Non-WUI       Non-WUI        WUI
Agency                                          acres       Total costs         acres         WUI costs          acres             costs       cost/acre cost/acre
Forest Service                             1,944,453 $205,008,413 1,047,200                $104,575,084         897,253 $100,433,328                 $112          $100
Bureau of Land
Management                                    415,861        65,185,014      153,292          37,601,168        262,569        27,583,846             105           245
Bureau of Indian Affairs                      188,114        16,416,775       14,425           8,446,191        155,170         7,970,584               51          586
National Park Service                         131,010         8,779,231       18,935           5,154,304        112,075         3,624,927               32          272
Fish and Wildlife Service                     325,440        15,851,449       99,541          10,387,148        225,899         5,464,301               24          104
Department of Interior                     1,060,425        106,232,469      286,193          61,588,811        755,713        44,643,658               59          215
Total for FS and
Interior                                   3,004,878 $311,240,882 1,333,393                $166,163,895       1,652,966      145,076,986
Averages for FS and
Interior                                      600,976        62,248,176      266,679      $ 33,232,779          330,593        29,015,397               88          125
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.

                                                               Notes: Planned acres refer to the total amount of land that the agency would like to treat in the fiscal
                                                               year. These acres do not refer to formal targets or goals, and the agencies do not use them for
                                                               accountability purposes. Formal targets are established when the agencies receive their final
                                                               appropriations and are further adjusted as additional challenges arise.
                                                               Planned acres and projected cost data received directly from the Forest Service and Interior.




                                                               Figure 14: Fiscal Year 2003 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Acre Distribution




                                                               Page 43                                                  GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix II
Summary of Fuels Treatment
Accomplishments for the Forest Service and
Interior, FY 2001-2003




Figure 15: Fiscal Year 2003 Fuels Reduction WUI and Non-WUI Cost Distribution




Page 44                                      GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix III

Summary of Fuels Treatment
Accomplishments in the Southeast for the
Forest Service and Interior, FY 2001-2003                                                                                                   Appendx
                                                                                                                                                  iI




                                                             These tables summarize the hazardous fuels reduction accomplishments in
                                                             the southeastern portion of the United States for the Forest Service and
                                                             Interior for fiscal years 2001 and 2002 and planned accomplishments for
                                                             2003. The 2001 and 2002 tables summarize the number of acres treated and
                                                             total obligated costs of the hazardous fuels program in the Southeast. The
                                                             2003 table summarizes the number of acres the agencies plan to treat and
                                                             the projected costs of those treatments. Except where noted, the
                                                             information was taken from the annual National Fire Plan performance
                                                             reports and further analyzed by GAO. To ensure consistency among
                                                             agencies, states were selected based on their inclusion in the Forest
                                                             Service’s Southeastern Region.



Table 5: Southeast Accomplishments for FY 2001

                                                               Acres treated
                                             National       Fish and   Bureau of Bureau of
                               Forest            Park        Wildlife      Land     Indian
State                         Service         Service        Service Management    Affairs         Total         Total costs       Cost/acre
AL                             83,232                548                                         $83,780         $1,710,000             $ 20
AR                             55,044             2,521       1,940                               59,505          3,174,000               53
FL                            108,282           72,172       19,589             5    3,430       203,478          5,110,000               25
GA                             25,863                         2,293                               28,156            933,000               33
KY                               7,065                                                             7,065          1,018,000              144
LA                            116,397                         8,672                              125,069          2,836,000               23
MS                            177,794                         5,335                              183,129          3,907,000               21
NC                             25,702                         8,962                     16        34,680          1,826,000               53
OK                             14,550                           378                  7,739        22,667            747,000               33
SC                             52,676                463      7,195                               60,334          2,414,000               40
TN                             17,275             1,707                                           18,982          1,036,000               55
TX                             60,426             3,854      27,029                    300        91,609          3,727,000               41
VA                               3,623               139         88                                3,850            318,000               83
Total                         747,929           81,404       81,481             5   11,485      $922,304        $28,756,000
Averages                       57,533             6,262       6,268             0      883        70,946          2,212,000               31
Percent of
treated
acres                              55%             83%         34%             0%     16%
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.




                                                             Page 45                                 GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                                    Appendix III
                                                                    Summary of Fuels Treatment
                                                                    Accomplishments in the Southeast for the
                                                                    Forest Service and Interior, FY 2001-2003




Table 6: Southeast Accomplishments for FY 2002

                                                                              Acres treated
                                                       National         Fish and        Bureau of   Bureau of
                                      Forest               Park          Wildlife           Land       Indian
State                                Service            Service          Service      Management      Affairs         Total     Total costs    Cost/acre
AL                                     64,688                863                89                                 $65,640      $1,085,000           $17
AR                                     84,558               6,501             1,467                                 92,526        2,725,000           29
FL                                   148,922            100,005           46,572                         6,667     302,166        4,746,000           16
GA                                     17,167                 22          64,865                                    82,054        4,899,000           60
KY                                      9,191                130                                                     9,321         572,000            61
LA                                     88,384                             29,384                                   117,768        2,100,000           18
MS                                   214,326                1,056         13,271                                   228,653        4,060,000           18
NC                                     14,268                 48          17,865                                    32,181        1,693,000           53
OK                                     14,348                722              5,042                     10,521      30,633        1,672,000           55
SC                                     44,324               1,739         16,205                                    62,268         371,000             6
TN                                     10,053               1,553                                                   11,606        1,259,000          108
TX                                     50,950               3,711         55,066                                   109,727        3,184,000           29
VA                                      4,463                348               193                                   5,004         528,000           106
Total                                765,642            116,698          250,019                        17,188   $1,149,547    $28,894,000
Averages                               58,896               8,977         19,232                         1,322      88,427        2,222,615           44
Percent of
treated acres                             62%                71%              55%                         16%
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.




                                                                    Page 46                                      GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                                  Appendix III
                                                                  Summary of Fuels Treatment
                                                                  Accomplishments in the Southeast for the
                                                                  Forest Service and Interior, FY 2001-2003




Table 7: Southeast Accomplishments Planned for FY 2003

                                                                                         Acres planned
                                                    Forest        National Park       Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Land                 Bureau of
State                                              Service             Service                 Service    Management               Indian Affairs                 Total
AL                                                   60,702                 1,083                   1,098                                                      $62,883
AR                                                 137,188               15,658                     2,180                                                      155,026
FL                                                 214,236               52,260                    27,716                                  34,367              328,579
GA                                                   17,604                     4                   8,430                                                       26,038
KY                                                     8,580                 424                                                                                  9,004
LA                                                 134,583                                         19,700                                                      154,283
MS                                                 218,733                   562                    6,160                                    1,850             227,305
NC                                                   54,971                   45                   10,048                                       51              65,115
OK                                                   27,264                  833                    2,230                                    5,887              36,214
SC                                                   38,550                  841                   14,461                                                       53,852
TN                                                   20,132                 2,100                     220                                                       22,452
TX                                                   88,427              11,897                    29,608                   91                                 130,023
VA                                                   14,387                   47                      317                                                       14,751
Total                                           1,035,357                85,754                  122,168                    91             42,155          $1,285,525
Averages                                             79,643                 6,596                   9,398                     7              3,243              98,887
Percent of treated                                          53%             65%                      38%                   0%                  0%
acres
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.

                                                                  Note: Planned acres and projected cost data received directly from the Forest Service and Interior.




                                                                  Page 47                                                GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix IV

Summary of Information Related to the 17
Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited by
GAO                                                                                                                             Appendx
                                                                                                                                      iIV




                                           Tables 8 through 12 and figure 16 summarize the hazardous fuels reduction
                                           accomplishments, reasons for incomplete treatments, and prioritization
                                           methods for the local Forest Service and BLM units that we visited. Table 8
                                           summarizes the number of acres actually treated and total obligated costs
                                           of the hazardous fuels program for the local units. Table 9 summarizes the
                                           number of acres the agencies plan to treat. Except where noted, the
                                           information was taken from data provided by the local units.



Table 8: 2002 Fuels Reduction Acres and Costs for 17 Local Land Units

                                                               Percentage of
                           2002 planned           Acres        planned acres   Estimated total   Estimated cost   Estimated WUI
Local land units                  acresa       completed          completed            costsb         per acreb    cost per acreb
California
Alturas BLM                        2,248                653             29%          $190,000             $291            $2,069
Klamath NF                         5,642               3,348            59%           539,760              161               184
Los Padres NF                     46,124               6,704            15%           269,000               40                40
Stanislaus NF                     11,321               4,892            43%           445,570               91               114
Surprise BLM                         753                448             59%           165,178              369               440
Colorado
Grand Junction BLM                 8,186               3,073            38%           150,951               49                56
San Juan BLM                       2,013               1,573            78%           216,435              138               138
San Juan NF                       10,259               3,113            30%           167,139               54               101
White River NF                     4,470                520             12%            34,000               65
Florida
Apalachicola NF                  145,208              94,661            65%         1,893,220               20                20
Osceola NF                        46,935              12,960            28%           233,280               18
Mississippi
Bienville NF                      54,694              43,497            80%           483,604               11                11
DeSoto NF                         96,392              80,407            83%         1,179,405               15                15
Oregon
Deschutes NF                      13,655              13,470            99%         2,365,562              176               281
Ashland Resource Area,
Medford BLMc                       8,888               8,113            91%         3,475,132              428               428
Ochoco NF                         12,847               4,701            37%           380,443               81                98
                d
Prineville BLM                    28,221              18,749            66%           451,963               24                35
Total                            497,856             300,882            60%       $12,640,642
Average Per Unit                  29,286              17,699            60%          $743,567             $119              $269




                                           Page 48                                       GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                            Appendix IV
                                                            Summary of Information Related to the 17
                                                            Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited
                                                            by GAO




Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.
                                                            a
                                                             Planned acres refers to acres for which officials at local units have completed preliminary
                                                            documentation. It does not refer to local units’ formal acreage targets that they expect to complete in a
                                                            given year.
                                                            b
                                                             Because we were unable to estimate costs for a small number of fuels projects that were not fully
                                                            completed, their costs are not included in these calculations.
                                                            c
                                                              A portion of Medford District, Ashland Resource Area’s fuels reduction work was paid for by funds
                                                            outside of the fuels program, but all acres were reported as accomplishments under the fuels reduction
                                                            program.
                                                            d
                                                             BLM’s Prineville District reduced fuels on 1,200 acres of Park Service land as a joint effort between
                                                            the two agencies. These 1,200 acres and BLM costs associated with them are included here in order
                                                            to more accurately measure accomplishments and unit costs.




                                                            Page 49                                                 GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                            Appendix IV
                                                            Summary of Information Related to the 17
                                                            Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited
                                                            by GAO




Table 9: 2003 Planned Fuels Reduction Acres and Costs for 17 Local Land Units

                                                                   2003 acres                                          Estimated cost              Estimated WUI
Local land units                                                     planneda               Estimated cost                   per acre               cost per acre
California
Alturas BLM                                                                 746                    $200,000                         $268                       $268
Klamath NF                                                                5,903                      875,560                         148                         149
Los Padres NF                                                            10,192                      809,625                           79                         79
Stanislaus NF                                                            14,134                    2,767,584                         196                         175
Surprise BLM                                                                540                      212,000                         393                         947
Colorado
Grand Junction BLM                                                       11,395                      760,661                           67                         86
San Juan BLM                                                              2,280                      386,000                         169                         169
San Juan NF                                                              16,900                    2,137,200                         126                         163
White River NF                                                            3,960                      447,500                         113                         347
Florida
Apalachicola NF                                                        155,027                     3,410,594                           22                         22
Osceola NF                                                               27,890                      502,020                           18                         18
Mississippi
Bienville NF                                                             55,370                      595,529                           11                         11
DeSoto NF                                                              101,656                     1,524,840                           15                         15
Oregon
Deschutes NF                                                             44,469                    2,601,882                           59                         48
Ashland Resource Area, Medford BLM                                        7,856                    3,223,784                         410                         410
Ochoco NF                                                                17,000                    1,268,000                           75                        116
Prineville BLM                                                           17,810                      540,500                           30                         42
Total                                                                  493,128                  $22,263,279                          $45                         $42
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.
                                                            a
                                                             Planned acres refers to acres for which officials at local units have completed preliminary
                                                            documentation. It does not refer to local units’ formal acreage targets that they expect to complete in a
                                                            given year.




                                                            Page 50                                                 GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                                 Appendix IV
                                                                 Summary of Information Related to the 17
                                                                 Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited
                                                                 by GAO




Table 10: Cost and Accomplishments by Fuels Reduction Treatment Methods Used by 17 Local Land Units, 2002

                                                            Prescribed burning                  Mechanical thinning                              Total
                                                                           Estimated                              Estimated                                Estimated
                                                               Acres     average cost               Acres       average cost                Acres        average cost
Local land units                                             treated         per acrea            treated           per acrea             treated            per acrea
California
Alturas BLM                                                      460                $86                193                $780                 653                $291
Klamath NF                                                     2,403                119                945                  269             3,348                     161
Los Padres NF                                                  6,343                  38               361                   82             6,704                      40
Stanislaus NF                                                  1,029                  44             3,863                  104             4,892                      91
Surprise BLM                                                                                           448                  369                448                    369
Colorado
Grand Junction BLM                                               532                   7             2,541                   58             3,073                      49
San Juan BLM                                                                                         1,573                  138             1,573                     138
San Juan NF                                                    2,556                  36               557                  136             3,113                      54
White River NF                                                   520                  65                                                       520                     65
Florida
Apalachicola NF                                               94,661                  20                                                   94,661                      20
Osceola NF                                                    12,960                  18                                                   12,960                      18
Mississippi
Bienville NF                                                  43,497                  11                                                   43,497                      11
DeSoto NF                                                     80,407                  15                                                   80,407                      15
Oregon
Deschutes NF                                                   4,615                  93             8,855                  219            13,470                     176
Ashland Resource Area,
Medford BLMb                                                   3,936                115              4,177                  723             8,113                     428
Ochoco NF                                                      4,201                  79               500                  100             4,701                      81
Prineville BLMc                                               14,294                  17             4,455                   46            18,749                      24
Total                                                        272,414                $51            28,468                 $252            300,882                 $119
Percentage of treated acres                                     91%                                    9%                                   100%
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.
                                                                 a
                                                                  Because we were unable to estimate costs for a small number of fuels projects that were not fully
                                                                 completed, their costs are not included in these calculations.
                                                                 b
                                                                  A portion of Medford District, Ashland Resource Area’s fuels reduction work was paid for by funds
                                                                 outside of the fuels program, but all acres were reported as accomplishments under the fuels reduction
                                                                 program.
                                                                 c
                                                                  BLM’s Prineville District reduced fuels on 1,200 acres of Park Service land as a joint effort between
                                                                 the two agencies. These 1,200 acres and BLM costs associated with them are included here in order
                                                                 to more accurately measure accomplishments and unit costs.




                                                                 Page 51                                                GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                                  Appendix IV
                                                                  Summary of Information Related to the 17
                                                                  Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited
                                                                  by GAO




Table 11: Reasons Cited for Incomplete Fuels Reduction Work by 17 Local Land Units, 2002

                                                                                                              Reasons cited for incomplete projects
                                                                   Percentage            2002
Local land                   Projects Projects not                projects not        planned                          Fire        Administrative All other
units                        planned   completed                    completed           acresa       Weather        season Funding requirements reasons
California
Alturas BLM                             8                    4              50%           2,248               3                                              1            1
Klamath NF                            19                     8              42%           5,642               2             2           4
Los Padres NF                         15                     8              53%         46,124                2                         8                    2
Stanislaus NF                         41                    19              46%         11,321                4             1          11                    1            2
Surprise BLM                          11                     7              64%             753               3             2                                1            5
Colorado
Grand
Junction BLM                          14                    11              79%           8,186               4             3                                1            4
San Juan BLM                            7                    2              29%           2,013                             2
San Juan NF                           16                    11              69%         10,259                9                                                           2
White River
NF                                    10                     9              90%           4,470               2             7
Florida
Apalachicola
NF                                   117                    42              36%        145,208               42           24
Osceola NF                            47                    35              74%         46,935               35
Mississippi
Bienville NF                          29                     5              17%         54,694                4             4                                             1
DeSoto NF                             61                    12              20%         96,392               11           11                                              1
Oregon
Deschutes NF                         369                     6               2%         13,655                6
Ashland
Resource
Area, Medford
BLM                                  222                    18               8%           8,888                           18
Ochoco NF                             23                    20              87%         12,847                2           18           18                               18
Prineville BLM                        35                    16              46%         28,221                2             4           1                    3            8
Total                             1,044                     233             22%        497,856             131            96           42                    9          42
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.
                                                                  a
                                                                   Planned acres refers to acres for which officials at local units have completed preliminary
                                                                  documentation. It does not refer to local units’ formal acreage targets that they expect to complete in a
                                                                  given year.




                                                                  Page 52                                                 GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                                               Appendix IV
                                                               Summary of Information Related to the 17
                                                               Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited
                                                               by GAO




                                                               Note: Because several factors can delay fuels work, some local units cited more than one reason for
                                                               incomplete fuels reduction projects. The 17 local units visited during our review cited 320 reasons to
                                                               explain 233 incomplete projects.




Table 12: Acres Treated in FY 2002 or Planned in FY 2003 That Were Treated in the Previous Fiscal Year

                                                                                                                                Percentage of
                                                                      FY 2002 acres Percentage of                 Planned FY      Planned FY
                                                                         previously FY 2002 acres                  2003 acres      2003 acres
                                                        FY 2002 acres     treated in     previously Planned FY      previously      previously
Local land units                                           completed           2001 treated in 2001 2003 acres treated in 2002 treated in 2002
California
Alturas BLM                                                       653                                                     746
Klamath NF                                                      3,348                                                  5,903
Los Padres NF                                                   6,704                  82                 1%          10,192
Stanislaus NF                                                   4,892              1,264                 26%          14,134                  420                  3%
Surprise BLM                                                      448                   5                 1%              540
Colorado
Grand Junction BLM                                              3,073                                                 11,395
San Juan BLM                                                    1,573                  37                 2%           2,280
San Juan NF                                                     3,113                                                 16,900                  600                  4%
White River NF                                                    520                                                  3,960
Florida
Apalachicola NF                                                94,661                                                155,027
Osceola NF                                                     12,960                                                 27,890                2,200                  8%
Mississippi
Bienville NF                                                   43,497                                                 55,370
DeSoto NF                                                      80,407                                                101,656
Oregon
Deschutes NF                                                   13,470              5,592                 42%          44,469              33,968                 76%
Ashland Resource Area, Medford
BLM                                                             8,113              2,662                 33%           7,856                3,363                43%
Ochoco NF                                                       4,701                                                 17,000
Prineville BLM                                                 18,749                                                 17,810
Total                                                         300,882              9,642                  3%         493,128              40,551                   8%
Source: GAO analysis of Forest Service and Interior data.

                                                               Note: In 6 of the 17 local land units that we visited, some acres of land that were treated for fuels
                                                               reduction and counted as acres accomplished during fiscal year 2001 were treated and counted again
                                                               as acres accomplished in 2002. Treating an acre of land more than once is sometimes necessary. For
                                                               example, some areas with hazardous fuels buildup are too dense to be treated with a prescribed burn
                                                               because fire would possibly burn too intensely and destroy valued resources, defeating the original




                                                               Page 53                                                GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
                                           Appendix IV
                                           Summary of Information Related to the 17
                                           Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited
                                           by GAO




                                           objective. In these cases, a series of treatments, such as hand chopping and piling of fuels and small
                                           prescribed burns, are performed on the same land over a period of time, ranging from several months
                                           to several years. Forest Service and Interior’s internal reporting guidelines direct local land units to
                                           report accomplishments on the same acres in separate fiscal years as a workload measure showing
                                           the results from their annual funding allotments. Overall, we found that, for the 17 local land units, 3
                                           percent of the acres treated and counted as accomplishment for fiscal year 2002 had been treated and
                                           counted in fiscal year 2001.




Figure 16: Elements of Local Land Units’ Project Prioritization Methods




                                           a
                                            Access includes physical as well as legal access to potential locations for fuels reduction projects. For
                                           example, in some cases, the terrain is too steep for fuels reduction equipment to operate, and in other
                                           cases snowy or muddy conditions can make a road impassable. Also, in cases where private or other
                                           nonfederal land must be traversed in order to reach a parcel of federal land, legal access becomes
                                           relevant and agency officials must obtain formal permission to cross the nonfederal land.




                                           Page 54                                                  GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix IV
Summary of Information Related to the 17
Forest Service and BLM Local Units Visited
by GAO




b
 In addition to a schedule of recurring treatments, the Apalachicola National Forest uses a scoring
system to prioritize projects.




Page 55                                                GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix V

Comments from the Departments of
Agriculture and of the Interior                                    Append
                                                                        x
                                                                        i
                                                                        V




             Page 56        GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix V
Comments from the Departments of
Agriculture and of the Interior




Page 57                            GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix V
Comments from the Departments of
Agriculture and of the Interior




Page 58                            GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix V
Comments from the Departments of
Agriculture and of the Interior




Page 59                            GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
Appendix VI

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                                          Appendx
                                                                                                      iVI




GAO Contacts      Barry T. Hill (202) 512-3841
                  Chester F. Janik (202) 512-6508



Staff             In addition to those named above, Paul Bollea, Ridge Bowman, Lee Carroll,
                  Christine Colburn, Richard Johnson, and Cynthia Norris made key
Acknowledgments   contributions to this report.




(360168)          Page 60                                GAO-03-805 Wildland Fire Fuels Reduction
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