On June 6, 2013, the U.S. Forest Service published the attached notice in the FEDERAL REGISTER requesting comments on an interim directive on “Burned Area Emergency Response.” The objective of the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program is to “rapidly assess burned areas to identify post-wildfire threats to human safety, property and critical natural or cultural resources on National Forest Service lands and take immediate and reasonable actions to manage unacceptable risks.” The interim directive is available at: www.fs.fed.us/im/directives/fsm/2500/wo_id_2520-2013-1.doc. The interim directive took effect upon publication of the notice, but the Forest Service has indicated that comments will be taken into account in preparing a final directive. The deadline for filing comments is July 8, 2013. (The notice, however, also indicates that the Forest Service considers tribal consultation to be an ongoing process that continues “through the issuance of final directives.”)
As discussed in the notice, the Forest Service determined that the directive for the BAER program, which had not been substantively revised since 2004, needed to be updated in light of “conditions that make the outlook for more and bigger fires almost certain,” and because of the need to respond to budgetary concerns. The revised directive seeks to provide a framework for making decisions on emergency response actions in a cost-effective way. The interim directive has been issued as part of Chapter 2520 of the Forest Service Manual, specifically FSM 2523.
The FEDERAL REGISTER notice discusses the changes that were made from the prior directive, some of which were made in response to concerns raised by tribes. For example, section 2523.1 of the guidance, which explains how to conduct a burned area emergency assessment, specifically says to consult with tribes for assistance in identifying sensitive cultural resource values. Similarly, section 2523.53, which notes that federal funding can be used to deal with certain post-fire risks on state and private lands, also specifically includes tribal lands.
If we may be of further assistance regarding the BAER program or if you need assistance preparing comments regarding the interim directive, please contact us at the information below.