Federal fire management plans are essential implementation guides for the management of wildland fire on federal lands. Recent changes in federal fire policy implementation guidance and fire science information suggest the need for substantial changes in federal fire management plans of the United States. Federal land management agencies are also undergoing land management planning efforts that will initiate revision of fire management plans across the country. Using the southern Sierra Nevada as a case study, we briefly describe the underlying framework of fire management plans, assess their consistency with guiding principles based on current science information and federal policy guidance, and provide recommendations for the development of future fire management plans. Based on our review, we recommend that future fire management plans be: (1) consistent and compatible, (2) collaborative, (3) clear and comprehensive, (4) spatially and temporally scalable, (5) informed by the best available science, and (6) flexible and adaptive. In addition, we identify and describe several strategic guides or “tools” that can enhance these core principles and benefit future fire management plans in the following areas: planning and prioritization, science integration, climate change adaptation, partnerships, monitoring, education and communication, and applied fire management. These principles and tools are essential to successfully realize fire management goals and objectives in a rapidly changing world.