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Burned Area Emergency Rehab.

While many wildfires cause minimal damage to the land and pose few threats to the land or people downstream, some fires cause damage that requires special efforts to prevent problems afterwards.  Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; water runoff may increase and cause flooding; sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs putting endangered species and community water supplies at risk.

The Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) program is designed to address these situations through its key goals of protecting life, property, water quality, and deteriorated ecosystems.

BAER objectives are to:

Determine if emergency resource or human health and safety

conditions exist.

Alleviate emergency conditions to help stabilize soil; control water, sediment and debris movement; prevent impairment of ecosystems; and mitigate significant threats to health, safety, life, property and downstream values at risk.

Monitor the implementation and effectiveness of emergency treatments.

BAER teams are staffed by specially trained professionals: hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, biologists, silviculturists, range conservationists, archeologists, and others who evaluate the burned area and prescribe treatments to protect the land quickly and effectively. BAER team assessments usually begins before the wildfire has been fully contained.

In most cases, only a portion of the burned area is actually treated. Severely burned areas, very steep slopes, places where water runoff will be excessive, fragile slopes above homes, businesses, municipal water supplies, and other valuable facilities are focus areas.  The treatments must be installed as soon as possible, generally before the next damaging storm.  Time is critical if treatments are to be effective.

There are a variety of rehabilitation techniques that the BAER team can recommend. Reseeding of ground cover with quick-growing or native species, mulching with straw or chipped wood, construction of straw bale dams in small tributaries, placement of fallen trees to catch sediments on steep slopes and digging of below-grade pits to catch runoff and store sediments are the primary rehabilitation techniques used. The team also assesses the need to modify drainage structures by installing debris traps, enlarging culverts, installing standup inlet pipes to allow drainage to flow if culverts become plugged, adding additional culverts and constructing emergency spillways to keep roads and bridges from washing out during floods.

The Cans and Cannots of BAER Rehabilitation Crews
What BAER may do: What BAER cannot do:
Install water or erosion control devices  
Plant for erosion control or stability reasons. Replant commercial forests or grass for forage.
Install erosion control measures at critical cultural sites. Excavate and interpret cultural sites.
Install temporary barriers to protect treated or recovering areas. Replace burned pasture fences.
Install warning signs. Install interpretive signs.
Replace minor safety related facilities. Replace burned buildings, bridges, corrals, etc.
Install appropriate-sized drainage features on roads, trails. Repair roads damaged by floods after fire.
Remove critical safety hazards.  
Prevent permanent loss of T&E habitat. Replace burned habitat.
Monitor BAER treatments. Monitor fire effects.
Plant grass to prevent spread of noxious weeds. Treat pre-existing noxious weeds.

Special Emergency Wildfire Suppression funds are authorized for BAER activities and the amount of these expenses varies with the severity of the fire season.  Some years see little BAER activity while others are extremely busy.  On average, BAER expenses have been about 5% of the cost of fire suppression. 

BAER assessment plans and implementation are often a cooperative effort between federal agencies (Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Geological Survey), and state, tribal and local forestry and emergency management departments. They are closely coordinated with private landowners.

How Can You Be Involved or Learn More?

Gain awareness of the BAER program and how the process works. Find out who manages BAER activities at your local Forest Service or other federal or state land management office.

If a wildfire occurs that requires emergency treatment, work with local officials to identify badly burned areas, homes, businesses, and other resources that may be at risk.

See if you can help install some treatments as a volunteer, or help monitor the success of these treatments and maintain them in following years. Past BAER treatment projects have involved school and scout groups and communities organizations. Much labor is often needed within a short period of time to install much-needed erosion-control measures. Monitoring the regrowth of vegetation through photographs makes a good long-term school science project.

Contact your local federal or state land management agency, or call the Fire Information Desk during a wildfire to learn who is leading efforts in your area. The National Watershed Restoration Program Manager at the Forest Service's headquarters office can also provide information. Call 202.205.0804 or write to USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 96090, Washington, D.C. 20090-6090.

Information about BAER treatment techniques:

Thank you for your interest in the Burned Area Emergency Restoration program.