Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Limitations
Incident: Rim Post-Fire BAER Burned Area Emergency Response
Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Limitations
While many wildfires cause minimal damage to the land and pose few threats to the land or people downstream some fires result in damage that requires special efforts to reduce impacts afterwards. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; water run-off may increase and cause flooding soil and rock may move downstream and damage property or fill reservoirs putting community water supplies and endangered species at-risk.
The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program is designed to address and manage these risks through its goals of protecting life property and critical natural or cultural resources. BAER is an emergency program for stabilization work that involves time-critical activities to be completed before the first damaging storm event to meet program objectives.
Determine whether imminent post-wildfire threats to human life and safety property and critical natural or cultural resources on National Forest System lands exist.
If emergency conditions are identified take actions when appropriate to manage the unacceptable risks.
Implement emergency response actions to stabilize soil; control water sediment and debris movement and reduce impairment of critical resources when an analysis shows that planned actions are likely to reduce risks substantially within the first year following containment of the fire.
Monitor the implementation and effectiveness of emergency treatments that were applied on National Forest System lands.
BAER assessment teams are staffed by specially trained professionals that may include: hydrologists soil scientists engineers biologists botanists archeologists and others who evaluate the burned area and prescribe temporary emergency stabilization treatments to protect the land quickly and effectively. BAER assessments usually begin before a wildfire has been fully contained.
The BAER assessment team conducts field surveys and uses science-based models to rapidly evaluate and assess the burned area and prescribe emergency stabilization treatments. The team generates a “Soil Burn Severity” map by using satellite imagery which is then validated and adjusted by BAER team field surveys to assess watershed conditions and watershed response to the fire. The map identifies areas of soil burn severity by categories of low/unburned moderate and high which may correspond to a projected increase in watershed response.
The BAER team presents these findings in an assessment report that identifies immediate and emergency actions needed to address post-fire risks to life and safety property cultural and critical natural resources. The BAER report describes watershed pre- and post-fire response information areas of concern for life and property and recommended short-term emergency stabilization treatments for Forest Service lands that burned.
In most cases only a portion of the burned area is actually treated. Severely burned areas steep slopes places where water run-off will be excessive fragile slopes above buildings roads municipal water supplies and other valuable facilities are focus areas and described in the BAER assessment report as values-at-risk. Time is critical if the emergency stabilization treatments are to be effective.
There are a variety of emergency stabilization treatments that the BAER team can recommend for Forest Service land such as: Seeding or mulching with agricultural straw or chipped wood construction of check dams in small tributaries and digging of below-grade pits to catch runoff and store soil sediment to keep roads and bridges from washing out during floods. The team may also recommend modification of existing drainage structures by installing debris traps enlarging culverts installing stand-up inlet pipes to allow drainage to flow if culverts become plugged adding additional culverts installing rolling dips and constructing emergency spillways.
The Cans and Cannots of BAER:
What BAER Can Do:
Install water or erosion control devices.
Plant for erosion control or stability reasons.
Install erosion control measures at critical cultural sites.
Install temporary barriers to protect critical resources or for safety.
Install warning signs.
Replace minor safety related facilities.
Install appropriate-sized drainage features on roads trails.
Remove critical safety hazards.
Prevent unacceptable risk to T&E habitat.
Monitor BAER treatments.
Monitor for new populations of noxious weeds & treat as needed.
What BAER Cannot Do:
Replant commercial forests or grass for forage.
Excavate and interpret cultural sites.
Replace burned pasture fences.
Install interpretive signs.
Replace burned buildings bridges corrals etc.
Repair roads damaged by floods after fire.
Replace burned habitat.
Monitor fire effects.
Treat pre-existing noxious weeds.
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 other years are extremely busy.
Because of the emergency nature of BAER initial requests for funding of proposed BAER treatments are supposed to be submitted by the Forest Supervisor to the Regional Office within
7 days of total containment of the fire. For most regions the Regional Forester’s authority for individual BAER projects is $500 000. Approval for BAER projects exceeding this limit is forwarded onto the Washington Office.
BAER Interagency Coordination:
Multiple agencies work with the BAER team and look at the full scope and scale of the situation to reduce the potential threats to life and property; however BAER treatments cannot prevent all of the potential downstream flooding or soil erosion impacts especially after wildfires change the landscape. So it is important that the public is informed and prepared for potential increased run-off events.
One of the most effective BAER strategies is interagency coordination with local cooperators who assist affected businesses homes and landowners prepare for rain events. The Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) work together and coordinate with local agencies and counties that assist landowners in preparing for potential run-off.
BAER assessment plans and implementation of the BAER emergency treatments are a cooperating and coordinated effort between many federal agencies such as the Forest Service NRCS National Park Service Bureau of Land Management U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Bureau of Indian Affairs U.S. Geological Survey and National Weather Service also including state tribal governments local agencies and emergency management departments. It is important that BAER coordinates its assessment and treatment implementation with all affected and interested cooperating agencies and organizations regarding other emergency response post-fire recovery and restoration efforts.