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The Northeast Identifies Opportunities for Partners to Improve Response to Wildfire

The Northeast Region has unique challenges in wildland fire management, particularly in initial attack preparedness and response. With the landownership in the Northeast overwhelmingly in private ownership and the nation's greatest number of both human-caused fires and communities, the Northeast has historically required full suppression as the response to all wildfires. While most state forestry agencies have the legal responsibility for the suppression of wildfires, local fire departments play a key role in initial attack success in the Northeast. The Northeast Regional Action Plan considers these challenges and includes actions, which are intended to improve response capacity as well as the efficient use of wildland and local fire resources.

Volunteer fire department of Lac Court Oreilles Reservation preparing to fight a forest fire.
Volunteer Fire Department at Lac Court Oreilles Reservation, Wisconsin, preparing to fight fire when it drops to the ground. Photo credit: Dave Pergolski, Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The fragmented distribution of the public, tribal and private lands throughout the region may often result in more than one jurisdiction responsible for initial and long term suppression response. According to Larry Mastic, Coordinator for the Northeast Regional Strategy Committee, "In this most densely populated area of the country, local firefighters respond not just to fire-related incidents, but also deploy to cover – often on a volunteer basis – emergency situations of all sorts." This "all hazard" response can be a challenge among fire departments, wildland fire management organizations, and the more than 41 percent of Americans they serve, in maintaining capacity to respond to sudden or disastrous events, wildfire being one of them.

As an overarching structure crossing jurisdictional lines to organize volunteer, local, state, federal and other response resources, "The Cohesive Strategy is the only framework that exists for some in the area of wildland fire management," Mastic notes. The Strategy, he reports, even in its early phases has provided opportunities for and encourages interagency discussions crucial to collaboratively addressing the management of wildland fire in the region. Within the region, agencies have used strategies of 'sharing' a fire management position between two agencies and contracting wildfire suppression services. These strategies can provide budget efficiencies and streamline fire management operations on the ground. The Cohesive Strategy for the Northeast Region encourages the partners in wildland fire management to expand the use of these types of strategies by identifying locations across the region and implementing these types of efficiencies.

The Northeast can be described in risk management terms as having a large number of small, mostly human-caused wildfires with a low occurrence of large wildfires. But all these present a high risk to life and property when they do occur. With this type of risk, comes a responsibility to prepare, plan, inform and coordinate effectively across organizations and jurisdictions. The Cohesive Strategy provides each wildland fire agency and organization opportunities to improve their response capacity and increase efficiencies to be well prepared to respond to events on the horizon.