Science Policy

Fighting Fire With Policy

10.26.22 | 3 min read | Text by Jessica Blackband & Erica Goldman

Humans have tried to tame fire for hundreds of thousands of years. In our era of rapid environmental change, living with fire poses new challenges. Climate change, land development, and decades of focus on suppressing fire are fueling larger, more frequent fires that put human health, property, and ecosystems at risk.

The federal government bears significant responsibility for wildland fire management in the United States. Federal entities manage public lands where prescribed burns and wildfires occur, support wildfire response, and conduct research that sheds light on wildland fire and its impacts. With the severity and devastation of wildfires increasing, federal entities can play a key role in deepening our understanding of fire and reexamining how we cope with it. Recognizing this, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorized the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission to develop and deliver a comprehensive set of new policy recommendations to Congress focused on how to “better prevent, manage, suppress, and recover from wildfires.” 

The Commission represents an enormous opportunity for communities of decision-makers, scientists, and innovators to combine knowledge and develop policy that keeps people safe while respecting fire’s regenerative role in many ecosystems. But the Commission will not be around forever, so we have to activate these communities now to ensure their expertise is heard. That’s why we have partnered with three leading science and policy organizations to deliver cutting-edge policy ideas to the Commission. 

The Commission’s Charge: Developing Recommendations for Congress 

The Commission began its work in September 2022, kicking off a 12-month sprint to recommend policy change on a number of wildland fire topics spelled out in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Commission members represent federal departments and agencies, industry, state and county government, tribal government, public utilities, academia, and other stakeholders who play important roles in managing and understanding fire.

The Commission’s discussions will focus on a set of high-priority topic areas, many of which could benefit greatly from incorporating the latest thinking on science, technology, and innovation from diverse sources. These topic areas include landscapes; science, data, and technology; and public health and infrastructure. 

Kicking Off the Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator

This week, the Federation of American Scientists is launching a Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator to develop policy ideas aimed at improving how we live with fire in the United States.  We’ve partnered with COMPASS, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), and Conservation X Labs to source and develop and socialize innovative ideas that align with the Commission’s goals. These partners bring expertise in communicating policy ideas as well as connections to interested accelerator contributors.

On Monday, October 24, FAS hosted a kickoff call to welcome accelerator contributors from academia, the private sector, nonprofits, national labs, and other institutions. Over the next few months, these contributors will refine their policy ideas into actionable recommendations for the Commission. These recommendations will focus on themes relevant to the Commission’s work, including integrating the science of climate change in wildland fire policy; understanding the impacts of smoke on public health; and leveraging science, data, and technology to inform resilience.

The end goal of the accelerator is a set of actionable recommendations that inform the Commission’s report to Congress and contribute to a holistic, evidence-based approach to managing wildland fire in the United States.