Air Force works with Fish and Wildlife Service to manage wildfires

  • Published
  • By Angelia Binder
  • Air Combat Command Natural Resources Program Manager
The Air Force and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to establish a national partnership aimed at managing wildfires.

Officials with the USFWS, Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment, Air Force Legal Operations Agency, Air Combat Command and 4th Fighter Wing met Jan. 12 to discuss development of a cooperative agreement for wildfire support.

The discussion included cost apportionment and agency roles and responsibilities for wildfire incidents affecting both USFWS and the Air Force. The meeting was hosted by headquarters Air Combat Command on behalf of the Air Force Civil Engineer, Maj. Gen. Timothy Byers.

The catalyst for the meeting was last year's Pains Bay fire which started on USFWS's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina on May 5 as the result of a lightning strike. The fire burned 45,294 acres of pocosin shrublands and pond pine woodlands in 60 days across the refuge and Dare County Bombing Range, costing more than $10 million dollars to extinguish.

After-action reviews identified the potential for a cooperative agreement to facilitate better coordination during future wildfires.

"There is a need for a two-way cooperative agreement between the USFWS and the Air Force," said Kevin Porteck, the Air Force's natural resources subject matter expert at AFCEE. "The agreement would need to be broad in scope and allow support and resources to flow to each agency as requested or needed in suppressing future wildfires."

The need for such a partnership is applicable nationally and affects all Air Force commands and installations, Porteck said.

Attendees also saw a need to develop a local cooperative agreement between Dare County Bombing Range and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge that would fall under the national agreement umbrella for specific local issues associated to both areas.

There were many lessons learned from the fire, said Tom Crews, the USFWS fire management officer. The event highlighted the need for more water control structures on both the range and the refuge, and the need for improved surface water manipulation for fire suppression, officials said.

As a result of the meeting, members from both organizations agreed to develop a plan to identify and prioritize locations for water control structures, which would allow temporary flooding of organic soils in areas to help suppress fire and serve as fire breaks.

"The successful outcome of this meeting will undoubtedly inspire further communications to identify other opportunities for mutual support and partnership in wildfire management," said Dave Shifflett, the chief of the compliance section at Air Combat Command.